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McCain Calls for New Arms Treaty With Russia

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks to an audience at the Univesity of Denver on Tuesday, May 27, 2008. (Associated Press)

By Glenn Kessler
DENVER -- Sen. John McCain today called for negotiating a new arms control agreement with Russia that would further reduce nuclear weapons, staking out a position on nonproliferation that is somewhat at odds with the policies of the Bush administration.

The presumptive Republican nominee said that if he became president he would offer "a vision in which the United States returns to a tradition of innovative thinking, broad-minded internationalism and determined diplomacy, backed by America's great and enduring power to lead."

As a senator, McCain has not been not a leader on nonproliferation issues. Today's speech appears to be an effort to sketch out a vision that is distinct from both President Bush and the leading Democrats. He appeared to place the prevention of the use of nuclear weapons, not their elimination, as his main goal.

McCain cited former president Ronald Reagan's dream of eliminating nuclear weapons. But, strikingly, he did not embrace proposals for doing so that have been offered by the so-called Gang of Four -- former secretaries of state George Schultz and Henry Kissinger, former defense secretary William Perry and former senator Sam Nunn. Both leading Democratic candidates have touted their support for the proposals, with Obama co-sponsoring a bill with Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) that recommends many of the measures.

In his speech this morning. McCain called for the elimination of the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator -- a nuclear bunker-busting weapon backed by Bush that he said "does not make strategic or political sense." Funding for the project has already been canceled.

The crowd of a few hundred people at the University of Denver was largely silent during McCain's address, a rather dry discussion of nuclear policy with no obvious applause lines. His speech was interrupted several times by war protestors, but McCain earned his biggest cheer when he declared in response, "I will never surrender in Iraq."

Other aspects of McCain's speech were vague. He said that "it is my hope to move as rapidly as possible to a significantly smaller force" of nuclear weapons, but gave no goals or targets. He appeared more open to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty than Bush, but did not say he would support it, only that he "would keep an open mind about future developments." And while he called for negotiating a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty "to end production of the most dangerous nuclear materials," McCain did not say he would support a verifiable treaty, which would go beyond the Bush administration position.

By Washington Post Editor  |  May 27, 2008; 12:37 PM ET
Categories:  John McCain  
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