WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama Tuesday will reject the development of "new" U.S. nuclear weapons and dial back current policy that allows the U.S. to use nuclear weapons in response to attacks by non-nuclear nations, administration officials said Monday.
Under the new policy, which establishes U.S. nuclear strategy for the next five to 10 years, the United States for the first time will rule out using nuclear weapons in response to biological, chemical or massive conventional attacks by non-nuclear nations that are in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, said an administration official familiar with the review.
However, he said, the president would make it clear Tuesday that the new restraints won't apply to Iran, North Korea or to nations that aren't in compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The treaty is the cornerstone of the international system to curb the spread of nuclear arms. The official declined to be named because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly in advance of the review's release.
The new strategy also will commit the United States not to develop "new" nuclear weapons, he said.
The new policy, which reflects Obama's pledge to reduce U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons, will be included in the Nuclear Posture Review that the president is to release after a year's preparation.
Obama outlined his new policy in an interview with The New York Times, but the White House refused to release its actual language ahead of Tuesday's unveiling, leaving some potentially important questions unanswered.
One major unknown remained how the administration defines what constitutes a "new" nuclear weapon.
Administration officials refused Monday to provide the definition or say whether the new policy allows modifications to existing nuclear warheads that would give them new military capabilities.
Such a loophole, about which arms control advocates have expressed concern, could undermine the thrust of the administration's international goals by encouraging other countries to continue developing weapons or improving their existing arsenals.
Administration officials said that the new policy would strengthen the U.S. commitment to defend its allies and partners against nuclear attacks, but they didn't say how that would be accomplished.
The administration official said the new policy wouldn't address a German call for the United States to withdraw the estimated 200 tactical — or battlefield — nuclear weapons it still maintains in Europe.
Other components of the policy are already known, including a proposal to increase funding for the U.S. laboratories and other facilities that maintain and service U.S. nuclear weapons, a key demand of Senate Republicans, whose support Obama will need to ratify the new arms reduction agreement with Russia.
The review comes two days before Obama is to meet in Prague with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to sign a new treaty mandating modest cuts in the sides' deployed nuclear warheads and delivery systems.
The release of the new nuclear strategy also comes about a week before more than 40 world leaders are to meet in Washington for a nuclear summit that Obama called to secure within four years nuclear materials vulnerable to theft.
Obama is seeking to cement a legacy of re-establishing U.S. leadership in international efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons and reduce the danger that terrorists could obtain nuclear weapons or materials as more countries invest in civil nuclear technology.
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