Video: Clinton wants strong penalties against Iran

By AP National Security Writer
updated 5/3/2010 5:18:19 PM ET 2010-05-03T21:18:19

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Monday the Obama administration will disclose the number of weapons in its nuclear arsenal, a closely guarded secret for more than a half-century.

Clinton told a U.N. conference that the move is aimed at improving transparency in the nuclear disarmament regime and encouraging other nations to comply with it.

"Beginning today, the United States will make public the number of nuclear weapons in our stockpile and the number of weapons we have dismantled since 1991," she said. "So for those who doubt that the United States will do its part on disarmament, this is our record, these are our commitments and they send a clear unmistakable signal."

U.S. officials said the detailed accounting of the arsenal was expected to be released later Monday in Washington.

In her speech, Clinton also said the administration wants to join parts of regional nuclear-free treaties governing Africa and the South Pacific that would pledge to countries in those regions that the U.S. will not test atomic weapons there and offer legally binding commitments not to use or threaten to use them against countries in the zones.

Clinton said the administration would seek Senate ratification of protocols to those treaties that would cover testing and use of nuclear weapons because it understands the importance of the matter to signatories of the pacts. The U.S. signed the protocols in 1996 during former President Bill Clinton's administration but has never sought their ratification.

In addition, Clinton said the administration would contribute $50 million to a fund run by the U.N. nuclear watchdog that would assist developing countries with civilian nuclear programs for humanitarian purposes. She said the U.S. could join a campaign to raise $100 million for the fund by the next NPT review conference in five years time.

The move was the subject of a furious debate within the Obama administration that continued until just hours before Clinton's speech.

Exposure of once-classified totals for U.S. deployed and reserve nuclear weapons is intended to put pressure on nations such as China, which has disclosed little about its nuclear stockpile.

Transparency sought
"You can't get anywhere toward disarmament unless you're going to be transparent about how many weapons you have," said Sharon Squassoni, a nuclear policy analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

It was not clear whether the administration would spell out details such as how many nuclear warheads are strategic, or long-range, and how many are tactical, or shorter-range.

A rough count of deployed and reserve warheads has been known for years, so the Pentagon figures won't tell nuclear experts much they don't already know. Estimates of the total U.S. arsenal range from slightly more than 8,000 to above 9,000.

The warheads are spread among deployed weapons, which are those more or less ready to launch, and reserve weapons.

Russia and the United States have previously disclosed the size of their stockpiles of deployed strategic weapons, and France and Britain have released similar information. All have signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which is the subject of the U.N. review that began Monday.

Improve bargaining power
The U.S. disclosures are calculated to improve Washington's bargaining power with Iran's allies and friends for the drive to head off what the West charges is a covert Iranian program to build a bomb.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamadinejad spoke ahead of Clinton at the conference, denouncing U.S. efforts to pressure his regime to abandon its nuclear program.

The U.N. conference will try to close loopholes in the internationally recognized rules against the spread of weapons technology.

Independent analysts estimate the total world stockpile of nuclear warheads at more than 22,000.

The Federation of American Scientists estimates that nearly 8,000 of those warheads are operational, with about 2,000 U.S. and Russian warheads ready for use on short notice.

The United States and Russia burnished their credentials for insisting that other countries forego atomic weapons by agreeing last month to a new strategic arms reduction treaty.

The New START treaty sets a limit of 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads for each side, down from 2,200 under a 2002 deal. The pact also re-establishes anti-cheating procedures that provide the most comprehensive and substantial arms control agreement since the original 1991 START treaty.

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