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Obama in Prague to sign Russia nuke deal

US President Barack Obama arrived in Prague on Thursday to sign a landmark nuclear disarmament treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that slashes their two nations’ atomic arsenals.

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The two heads of state will sign a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expired last December, in the city where Obama called for a nuclear-free world in a keynote speech a year ago.

The treaty, which must be ratified by the US Senate and Russia’s parliament to take effect, also imposes limits on the intercontinental ballistic missiles needed to deliver the warheads.

Prague airport spokeswoman Michaela Lagronova told AFP that Obama arrived at 0915 (0715 GMT). Medvedev arrived in Prague on Wednesday evening.

Obama will meet Medvedev at the Prague Castle — the seat of the Czech president — for a one-on-one before the signature scheduled to take place in the castle’s richly adorned Spanish Hall around noon local time (1000 GMT).

Thousands of police have been deployed to provide security in Prague during the US-Russian summit.

The agenda for the talks includes hot-button international issues such as Iran’s nuclear programme.

The Obama administration has been seeking Russian support at the UN Security Council for tougher sanctions against Iran.

They are also likely to discuss US missile defence — a point of conflict between the two superpowers ever since the George W. Bush administration introduced a plan to deploy a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Last September, the United States scrapped that version of the initiative, which had been a major source of tension between Washington and Moscow.

But Russia has warned that it may pull out of the new treaty if it feels threatened by the new US plan, under which Poland may still host an anti-missile system.

Following the signing, Obama and Medvedev are scheduled to give a joint press conference.

Obama had pushed hard for the new treaty in a bid to improve strained ties with Moscow and set an example for the rest of the world as he seeks to strengthen global non-proliferation efforts.

The initiative helped him earn the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.

In the justification of its decision to pick Obama, the Nobel committee said it had “attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”

The US president, whose country is set to host a key nuclear security summit on April 12-13, took another major step on Tuesday when he unveiled a new nuclear policy reducing the role of atomic weapons in the US national security strategy.

Later on Thursday, Obama will meet 11 leaders from eastern and central Europe, whose countries have fretted about eroding support from Washington as the Obama administration pursues closer ties with Russia.

The US president will spend the night in Prague and leave around noon (1000 GMT) on Friday after bilateral talks with Czech leaders.

Medvedev will leave Prague around 1500 (1300 GMT) on Thursday after a joint ceremonial lunch with Obama and Czech President Vaclav Klaus.

Thousands of police have been deployed to provide security in Prague during the US-Russian summit.