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Political Notebook

In move for nuclear-free world, Obama will sign arms treaty with Russia

April 8, 2010

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WASHINGTON — President Obama is taking the first major step in his push toward a nuclear-free world, returning to Prague to sign the kind of arms-reduction treaty with Russia unseen for nearly two decades.

The deal goes beyond modest arsenal reductions, offering Obama a chance to repair soured relations with Moscow and pursue more dramatic cuts in global nuclear weapon stockpiles.

The new treaty, to be signed today by Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev, will shrink both nations’ arsenals of strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 over seven years, about a third less than the 2,200 currently permitted. It was a year ago nearly to the day, also in Prague, that Obama outlined his agenda to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in US security strategy, with a long-range goal of eliminating nuclear arms.

The agreement — “new START,’’ as it is known — is clear evidence of an improved US-Russian relationship that had fallen to such a low in recent years that some worried about a second Cold War, with disputes over US missile defense plans, Moscow’s 2008 invasion of Georgia, and NATO expansion to Russia’s doorstep. Under Obama, Russian cooperation on key priorities, from helping to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran to opening supply routes for the US military into Afghanistan and agreeing to new arms reductions, has increased — though not by a huge amount.

Because of arcane warhead-counting rules involving delivery vehicles, the real reductions under the agreement could be far less than the advertised numbers. Regardless, the allowed stockpiles still leave plenty for global annihilation. There is also some opposition in both countries to the required legislative ratification.

And, proof of continuing bilateral distrust, the process of achieving it was far more difficult than the Obama administration expected when the negotiations were inaugurated last April by Obama and Medvedev. Instead of an easy lift to be completed by December, when its predecessor, the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, expired, intense wrangling extended the talks by more than three months. Complications arose from Russian testing of Obama, disagreements over a new verification regime, and other factors.

Calif. man arrested over threatening calls to Pelosi
SAN FRANCISCO — A California man angry about health care reform allegedly made threatening and harassing phone calls to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, including at least one call in which he got through and spoke to her directly, law enforcement officials said.

Gregory Lee Giusti, 48, was arrested yesterday at his San Francisco home, said Joseph Schadler, spokesman for the FBI’s San Francisco office. Schadler would not disclose the charges against Giusti, saying they were under seal until his first appearance before a federal magistrate, scheduled for today.

The arrest came a day after a Washington state man was arrested for allegedly leaving threatening voicemails for Senator Patty Murray, and as other Democratic lawmakers have faced vicious verbal attacks over their support of the historic health care overhaul.

Several federal officials said Giusti made dozens of calls to Pelosi’s homes in California and Washington, as well as to her husband’s business office. They said he recited her home address and said if she wanted to see it again, she would not support the health care overhaul bill that since has been enacted.

Giusti has been in trouble previously for making threats. In 2004, he pleaded no contest in San Mateo County, south of San Francisco, to a felony charge of making criminal threats and was sentenced to a year in jail and three years of supervised probation. Other details of that case were not immediately available.

A statement from Pelosi’s spokesman praised the efforts of law enforcement and said the House Speaker would have no further comment “at this time.’’

On Tuesday, Pelosi told reporters in San Francisco that “people have been active in expressing their disagreement.’’ Sometimes those expressions have risen “to the level of threats or violence,’’ she said, explaining that she was not allowed to comment on her own situation.