US cuts nuclear arsenal

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The Independent Online
Washington - Stepping up his campaign for a permanent extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, President Bill Clinton is ordering the removal of 200 tons of weapons material from the US nuclear stockpiles as proof of Washington's determination to reduce nuclear arms, writes Rupert Cornwell.

The move, revealed by White House officials, was expected to dominate a key foreign policy speech last night, in which Mr Clinton, apart from pleading for a renewal of the treaty this year, would lambast Republicans for "neo-isolationism".

The NPT comes up for review at a 172-nation conference in New York in April, amid growing resistance by about 90 Third World countries to a permanent extension, not least because of the failure of the five avowed nuclear powers - the US, Russia, China, France and Britain - to reduce their own stockpiles.

Overall US stocks of plutonium and enriched uranium are an official secret, but the officials said the 200 tons was sufficient to build "thousands" of weapons. Russia and the US have about 8,000 strategic warheads each, due to decline to 3,500 apiece by 2003 under the Start II treaty. President Boris Yeltsin has called for a Start III deal, to make bigger cuts, putting pressure on Britain, France and China to place their arsenals on the bargaining table.

In his speech, Mr Clinton is likely to stress the "goal of eliminating" all nuclear weapons, in a pitch to the developing nations to sign on to a NPT extension.