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Obama Seen Prioritizing Campaign Over Nuclear Arsenal Cuts Decision

President Barack Obama, shown on Friday. The Obama administration is said to be holding off on further decisions on reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal in the midst of the re-election campaign (AP Photo/Susan Walsh). President Barack Obama, shown on Friday. The Obama administration is said to be holding off on further decisions on reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal in the midst of the re-election campaign (AP Photo/Susan Walsh).

President Obama is prioritizing the needs of his re-election campaign over making decisions on potential new cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which do not appear likely to be announced until after November voting, the New York Times reported on Thursday (see GSN, July 3).

The Obama administration is assessing whether and how deeply to cut into the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. An internal government assessment of the country's deterrence requirements is close to being presented to the president, officials told the Times.

Under the bilateral New START accord with Russia, the United States is required by 2018 to cut its deployed long-range nuclear arsenal down to 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems.

Obama could now adhere to those weapon levels or he could choose from two other alternatives, according to sources. He could order drastic new cuts down to between 300 and 400 launch-ready nuclear weapons or he could take a middle-of-the road approach and leave between 1,000 and 1,100 launch-ready warheads. The administration is said to favor the latter option, according to the Times article.

Republicans are expected to oppose any new nuclear arms control cuts; the House has already made moves in that direction (see related GSN story, today). The Senate debate over New START ratification in 2010 was particularly divisive, and a number GOP lawmakers such as Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona have accused the White House of abandoning U.S. national security interests in order to placate a resurgent Russia.

The Obama administration is seen as hesitant to declare new reductions that could give presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney a new opportunity to attempt to paint the Democratic incumbent as weak on defense.

Similarly, White House efforts to achieve a resolution to the Iranian nuclear dispute have also become entangled in campaign calculations. Opponents accuse the Obama team of dithering in multiple rounds of unfruitful negotiations so as to delay any hard decisions targeting the Iranian government until November elections have passed.

Israel has warned it could launch a unilateral air campaign against Iran's atomic facilities if it calculates that Tehran is close to making its uranium enrichment plants invulnerable to foreign assaults (see related GSN story, today).

Obama officials said the timing of formal talks with Tehran is determined by events wholly unrelated to the presidential race such as new sanctions targeting Iran's oil sector that are only just going into effect. The White House argues the sanctions have to be given time to work before the Iranian regime is finally prodded into real negotiations.

Tehran's refusal so far to engage in substantial negotiations is based on part by its calculation that the U.S. government will not instigate a confrontation until after November presidential elections, according to some experts.

The White House, though, might change its position on Iran as voting draws nearer. "If, in October, the president is on the ropes, and he can score a quick win by doing something with Israel or Iran, he's going to do it," Foreign Policy Group Chief Executive David Rothkopf said in an interview (Mark Landler, New York Times, July 19).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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