Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Standard and Poor's Lowers Greek Credit Rating to 'Junk'.

-- Central Information Authority of the Reserve Bank.

On 23 April 2010, the Greek government requested that the EU/IMF bailout package be activated. The IMF has said it was "prepared to move expeditiously on this request". The size of the bailout is expected to be €45 billion (WFP 28 billion) and it is expected to take three weeks to negotiate, with a payout within weeks of €8.5 billion of Greek bonds becoming due for repayment. On 27 April 2010, the Greek debt rating was decreased to 'junk' status by Standard & Poor's amidst fears of default by the Greek government. The Greek government was offering borrowers 15.3% on two-year government bonds. Greece's ability to repay its debt, which equals 115% of its gross domestic product remains doubtful. Fiscal austerity leading to a deeper recession would see Greek bond markets rally and Greek yields fall thus guaranteeing that European holders of Greek government debt would retain the value of their investments at the cost of a severe contraction of the Greek economy.

Standard & Poor's estimates that in the event of default investors would lose 30–50% of their money. Stock markets worldwide declined in response to this announcement. In related events, S&P downgraded Portugese debt two notches and issued negative outlook, warning that further downgrades to junk status are likely. Stock indices around the world drop two to six percent on the news.

Gulf Oil Spill Expanding; Submarines Try to Stop Leak

-- Wikinews

After an explosion aboard an oil rig four days ago, an oil spill caused by the sinking of the rig has expanded to cover an area of around 600 square miles, and efforts to shut off the leak have thus far been unsuccessful.

Officials have begun to use robotic submersible vehicles to stop the leak. The efforts began yesterday, although it could be as late as tomorrow before they are completed. The vehicles will attempt to engage a device called a blowout preventer, which can seal the well shut to prevent sudden releases of pressure within the well, like the one that may have caused the rig to explode. According to BP, the company that operated the well, the attempt was the first of its kind in the world.

The leaks are on a pipe from the ocean floor called a riser. They are currently estimated to be releasing around 42,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico, and the oil slick on the surface of the ocean is estimated to cover an area about 48 by 39 miles at its widest points. Officials say oil is not expected to reach land until at least Thursday, and would remain at least 30 miles from land through Tuesday. The impact of the spill on wildlife is currently unknown; there have been no reports of animal casualties, though whales were seen in the vicinity of the spill yesterday.

According to officials, there are two other possible ways to contain the oil spill if the attempt to seal the well is unsuccessful. One option would be to install a large dome over the leak and send the collected oil to the surface, where it would be collected by ships. This has been done before, although only in shallow water. The second option is to drill an entirely new well that would intersect the original, although this could take months to complete.

Smoke Bomb Thrown in Ukrainian Parliament

-- Wikinews

Chaos broke out in the Ukrainian parliament as several smoke bombs were thrown during a debate about the extended lease on a Russian naval base in Ukraine. Members of parliament were seen fighting on the chamber floor while opposition MPs threw eggs at the speaker of the house, Volodymyr Lytvyn.

It is not clear who threw the smoke bombs, although opposition MPs were thought to be responsible, but the debate continued despite the lingering smoke and chaos. The speaker had to be protected by two aides holding umbrellas and politicians held handkerchiefs to their mouths.

Along with the brawling MPs, thousands of people waited outside the parliament building protesting the extended lease.

The clashes began as members of parliament were debating extending the lease on the Sevastopol naval base. The Russians currently have a lease on the base until 2017. The Russians have offered Ukraine cheaper supplies of Russian natural gas in exchange for a further 25 years on the lease.

After the chaos had calmed down, MPs voted on the agreement and the deal extending the lease was backed 236 to 214. The deal was then put forward in the Russian lower house of parliament, where all 410 Russian MPs voted in favour of the deal.

New Zealander William Trubridge Breaks Freediving World Record

-- wikinews

29-year-old William Trubridge from New Zealand set a new freediving record on Sunday, reaching a depth of 380 feet in the Atlantic Ocean, holding his breath for four minutes nine seconds — breaking the world record for the deepest free immersion dive.

Wearing a silicon-coated wetsuit, Trubridge plunged into world's deepest blue hole in a bay west of Clarence Town on Long Island, Bahamas. Dean's Blue Hole is 663 ft deep. Using breaststroke and fins to decend, he said “It was hard to get the tag from the bottom as I struggled with some narcosis". "[I] wasted some time fumbling for the tag, then set off for the surface. I had to use my arms a little."

Trubridge already held nine world records, and the dive put him into first place in the "Vertical Blue Suunto Dive-Off" competition. Earlier in the tournament he broke the record for a "constant weight, no fins" unassisted dive to 301ft — the first person to reach the 300ft unaided.

There are many different classes of freediving. For breath-hold diving, there is with- and without-fins, and with/without 'assistance', such as a weighted sled.

This record was for "Constant Weight Apnea with fins", where the diver cannot drop any weights during the dive, and follows a guide line, but cannot touch it. They may use fins to descend, but on the ascent they pull themselves up with the rope. Divers retrieve a velcro tag from a metal plate placed at a certain depth. The record was previously held by Austrian Herbert Nitsch, who reached a depth of 301ft on 19 April 2010. The 'no limits' record, in which competitors can use a weighted sled, is 702 ft.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Imperium and Kingdom of Bahoudii hold Tele-summit

-- Imperial News Service

On the early evening of Thursday, April 22, 2010 the King of the Kingdom of Bahoudii, and the CommiCzar of the Imperium of DeWaCo Estates, held the first TeleConference / TeleSummit between the two leaders; which lasted 1 hour and 17 minutes in length.

The two leaders discussed several issues related to each of their respective MicroGovts; as well as, voiced their personal and professional opinions regarding the general focus anddirection of the Micronational Movement overall.

Economics, security, territorial integrity, emerging micronations and leaders, were a few of the issues that the two leaders shared their views on, regarding the micronational aspects associated within the Greater MicroSphere; as well as, the immediate and the future possible / probable ramifications that exist with each issue with regards to the "macro" community of nations.

The two leaders mutually agreed to continue their communications on a regular basis; with both leaders agreeing to a possible near-future Multi-State TeleSummit between several other member-states of the Open MicroForum.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Europe's Airline Flight Crises

-- Wikinews

Aviation experts are warning that air traffic across western Europe may continue to be affected by an Icelandic volcano, which has been billowing clouds of ash and spreading it throughout the region.

Experts say that the Eyjafjallajokull volcano, located in Iceland, continues to have "sporadic eruptions"; dark ash clouds have been moving south and east of the area, causing mass flight cancellations from the UK to Russia over fears that the soot may be catastrophic to planes - such as causing engines to fail in-flight or severely reducing the pilot's visibility.

The ash clouds are drifting between six to nine thousand meters above the ground, and are moving eastwards, over northern France and Austria and towards Russia at about 40 kilometers per hour.

Already, thousands of passengers have been left stranded around the world, unable to travel to and from various points in Europe. The continent's air-traffic control center forecast 17,000 flights to be canceled on Friday alone, and indicated there could be further disruption on Saturday. The cancellations are costing airlines about US$200 million daily, the International Air Transport Association reports.

A global association of air traffic control companies commented that ash clouds would probably continue to affect flights for some time. "The knock-on effect of the volcanic ash plume over northern Europe is likely to disrupt European airspace for several days," the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization said in a statement. "Traffic will have to be reorganized and rerouted and flights preplanned, all on a dynamic and quite unpredictable basis."

"The skies are totally empty over northern Europe," said Eurocontrol's deputy head, Bryan Flynn. The agency added that about 16,000 of Europe's average 28,000 daily flights were canceled yesterday, twice as many as were called off on Thursday.
Dark volcanic ash clouds visible above Bergen, Norway.

In a special report, Wikinews takes a look at how different countries have been affected by this event.

Icelandic airports are open, despite being in such close proximity to the billowing volcano, as the winds are blowing ash clouds away from the vicinity.

The Icelandic Met Office's Matthew Roberts, told the BBC that the volcano hasn't been expending as much ash, and that the eruption was slowing down.

Icelandic officials are urging local residents with respiratory problems to refrain from going outdoors, and encourages the use of protective goggles and masks to those who do go out.

Experts suggest that occasional disruptions are possible throughout the next half year, should Eyjafjallajokull continue to erupt. Another concern is that it may trigger an eruption from the larger Katla volcano nearby, which has occurred every time Eyjafjallajokull has erupted for the past few centuries.

Polish authorities have suggested that they will delay the funeral of deceased president Lech Kaczynski, who died in a plane crash in Russia last week. Many world leaders planning to attend the funeral might be prevented from doing so due to the ash clouds. Poland was one of twelve to close down most or all of its airspace.

The president's family, however, has insisted the ceremony, to be held in Krakow, proceed as planned.

The UK's National Air Traffic Service (NATS), says that its restrictions on airspace in the country would remain in effect until no sooner than 13.00 UTC today. Travel bans for Northern Ireland and Scotland have been lifted, although NATS stressed that this does not necessarily mean flights to and from the area will actually resume.

The Ryanair airline, meanwhile, canceled all its northern Europe flights until 13.00 on Monday. British Airways called off all of its flights from London airports.

UK ferry operators saw a jump in bookings as stranded air travelers sought other ways to cross the English Channel.

A spokesman with the British Civil Aviation Authority commented that, [i]n terms of closure of airspace, this is worse than after 9/11. The disruption is probably larger than anything we've seen."

A correspondent for Al Jazeera reporting from London Heathrow airport described stranded travelers attitude as being "increasingly frustrated". He remarked: "Some sources I've been speaking to have been indicating that this will probably be extended further. There may be intermittent disruptions to flights for months to come."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Thailand's Abhisit Vejjajiva Administration Faces Crises

-- Wikinews
In a televised statement on Monday, Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva blamed the loss of life last Saturday in Bangkok on armed terrorists who had infiltrated the Red Shirt protesters. He added that the security forces had opened fire only when fired upon.

The Prime Minister's statement came as he was suffering a double blow to his authority. As coffins draped in Thai flags paraded through Bangkok to symbolise the death of democracy, Thailand's electoral commission ruled that Vejjajiva's Democrat Party should disband. In addition, the chief of the Thai Army, General Anupong Paojinda, publicly called for the dissolution of parliament.

Despite pressure from the Vejjajiva administration, the Thai Army, which traditionally has been politically significant in the country, has been reluctant to use force against the protesters, and will become even more so following what will be seen as innocent blood on its hands.

Even though Vejjajiva has stated that the government and military remain united, without the unequivocal support of the Thai military and security forces, his administration has very little room for maneuver.

Ironically, Vejjajiva may be saved from having to concede to the Red Shirts' demands for fresh elections through the same process that deposed his predecessor and led to his own rise to the premiership. A court has ruled that Vejjajiva's Democrat Party accepted 258 million baht in illegal campaign donations from cement maker TPI Polene. Under Thai law, the courts have the power to dissolve any party ruled to have broken electoral laws and to ban its members from public office for five years. This is the same law that in 2008 resulted in the the disbanding of the People's Power Party and the removal of Somchai Wongsawat from office. Leaders from both sides of the political divide have welcomed this development as a way to resolve the current deadlock.

However political commentators note that even with fresh elections the impasse that led to what is now known as Black Saturday would not end. Thai society has become increasingly polarised into pro-Thaksin Shinawatra and anti-Thaksin Shinawatra camps, and neither side will be willing to see the other side in power whatever the results of elections.

The violence on April 10 2010, the worst for 20 years, saw the death of 21 people, four soldiers and sixteen civilians, including Reuters reporter Hiroyuki Muramoto.

Monday, April 12, 2010

HRH the Duchess of Cornwall Suffers Broken Leg

-- AFP

Prince Charles' wife Camilla has broken her leg while hillwalking in Scotland, but a royal spokeswoman said the Duchess was comfortable and cheerful and plans to keep up all her scheduled engagements.

Camilla is likely to wear a plaster cast for about six weeks, by which time the "relatively minor" injury should have healed, experts said Thursday.

"While hillwalking in slippery conditions in Scotland, the Duchess of Cornwall took a tumble and hurt her leg," a spokeswoman for Clarence House said after the accident Wednesday.

Following doctor's advice on Thursday, Camilla -- who has been staying on the royal family's Balmoral country estate in Scotland -- had an X-ray "which showed a twisted fracture of the fibula," she added.

"Consequently her royal highness is wearing a plaster cast and will be for six weeks. She has been advised not to put weight on her leg, and her royal highness has every intention of carrying out all planned engagements."

Camilla was said to be comfortable and philosophical about the accident, said the spokeswoman.

"The Duchess is cheerful and it's a case of 'Life goes on -- it could be worse'," she said.

Charles, 61, eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II and heir to the throne, married the former Camilla Parker-Bowles in April 2005. His previous marriage to the late princess Diana ended in divorce in August 1996.

The 62-year-old needed to be helped down from the hill after the accident, which happened while Camilla and Charles were on their traditional Easter break at Birkhall, the prince's private home on the Balmoral estate.

Barry Ferris, an orthopaedic surgeon at Barnet Hospital in north London, said the break should heal relatively quickly.

"A fibula fracture is usually related to a direct blow -- she may have fallen over on something like a rock. Age is not probably going to be a factor for her.

"While it's true the bones thin as you get older, she is very active," he said, adding: "This is a relatively minor injury. She will be sore for a couple of weeks but she should be fine after six weeks."

The accident follows an unrelated health problem -- a trapped nerve in her back -- which forced Camilla to cancel a number of engagements during a recent trip to central Europe.

Clashes Leave 21 Dead in Thai Capital

-- Wikinews

Fifteen deaths and over 680 injuries have resulted from clashes between Red shirt protesters and government forces in the Thai capital Bangkok.

The deaths of seventeen civilians, including a Japanese cameraman working for the Reuters agency, and four soldiers come after almost a month of protests. Since March 12 Red shirts, so called because of their wearing of red as an identifying symbol, have occupied public spaces and have held rallies and marches in Bangkok in an attempt to force fresh elections.

According to eye witness reports the deaths and injuries are as a result of the police use of rubber bullets and tear gas against the protesters. To which the protesters responded with missiles, pushing and shoving and it is alleged firearms and small bombs.

The current clashes follow an attempt by the security forces to clear key areas in the city. A move seen as an attempt to restore authority and dignity to the security forces lost when the Red Shirts succeeded breaking of a security cordon around the Thaicom satellite television station on Friday.

Despite the courts ruling that the occupation of public spaces as being illegal and the issuing of 27 arrest warrants for the movements leaders, the protests had until today hitherto been peaceful – if noisy – with Thai security forces showing restraint in the policing of the protests, reluctant to cause bloodshed.

The Red shirts consider the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration to be illegitimate having never won an election, and as an undemocratic one imposed on the nation after the Yellow Shirts toppled the elected government of now-fugitive ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra, during the 2008–2009 Thai political crisis. Red Shirt leaders have called for Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, revered by both sides, to intervene and help end the stalemate.

In late 2009, the considerable continuing influence of the ex-PM saw him take a post with the Cambodian government. Despite being deposed in the 2006 coup, the ousted Thaksin has been in exile, mostly living in Dubai. He is still influential in Thailand, using protests by the Red Shirts, with the Thai government fearing Thaksin will use Cambodia as base to campaign.

However, Thaksin published a letter on his website last November indicating that he did not intend to "go to Cambodia to help Cambodia fight with Thailand [...] As I travel to Cambodia to discuss poverty and the world economic situation, I will try to preserve Thai interests with our friends in Phnom Penh, despite the Thai government still hounding me wherever I go," he stated.

Cambodia has made it clear that they will not extradite Thaksin. Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said that regarding the jail sentence they are "not concerned about these issues [...] We already clarified this case because he is a political victim."

Spain Hit by 6.3 Magnitude Earthquake

-- Wikinews

The USGS has reported a 6.2 magnitude earthquake in Spain. It had a depth of 616.7 kilometers. The epicenter was located 25 kilometers northeast from Granada, 106 kilometers northwest of Málaga and 341 kilometers south of Madrid. It occurred on Monday at 00:08:10 local time (22:08:10 UTC).

People posted via Twitter that the earthquake was felt in Cádiz, Málaga, and Murcia.

CNN reports there are no immediate reports of deaths, injuries or damages. "An earthquake with that depth means little damage is likely," seismologist Susan Potter told CNN. "When an earthquake is deeper, the seismic energy is absorbed by the Earth, so there will be less damage expected in the epicenter area," she said too.

Meanwhile, almost a month ago, on March 1, the Spanish Geologist Luis Eugénio Suarez, said that the Granada area could suffer an earthquake within the short term, and with an intensity similar to that of the February 27 Cauquenes, Chile earthquake. Suárez commented that "Spain is not like Chile," because the latter is located on a high seismic frequency area, but also noted that "once every hundred years, a destructive earthquake is produced in the peninsula."

The last earthquake in Spain was in Arenas del Rey, in Granada, 126 years ago, and reached a magnitude of 6.6, leaving between 750 and 900 dead, thousands injured and material destruction.

Maoist Rebels Kill at Least 70 Indian Soldiers

-- Wikinews

Officials have reported that Maoist rebels in India killed at least 70 soldiers in Chhattisgarh, a central state in the country.

The ambush was made on security convoys in a dense jungle in the district of Dantewada, a remote area. According to police, about 300 Maoists set off explosives and started shooting at them.

"Seventy-five [people] have been killed, and seven injured," commented Gopal Pillai, the Indian home secretary.

This is the deadliest incident security forces have seen since they recently initiated an offensive against the Maoists; the operation has spread out across several states and includes 50,000 federal paramilitary troops, as well as thousands of policemen.

The violence is still ongoing, according to police official Ashok Dwivedi. "Fighting is still carrying on in the area, and we're having great difficulty getting news from there," he said.

It is the biggest loss of life security forces have suffered since launching the recent offensive against the rebels.

India's Home Minister P. Chidambaram remarked that the convoys had apparently "walked" into a trap set by the Maoists. "Something has gone very wrong. They seem to have walked into a trap set by the [Maoists]. Casualties are quite high," he said.

United Kingdom Interest Rates Remain at 0.5%

-- Wikinews

The Bank of England has decided to keep the interest rates for the United Kingdom at 0.5%. A meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC), of the Bank of England, was responsible for causing the figure to remain at what are the lowest interest rates for the country on record. They have remained at 0.5% since March 2009. The course of quantitative easing, a form of monetary policy used to stimulate an economy when the interbank interest rate is either at or close to zero, will also be remaining at approximately £200 billion (US$304 billion, €228 billion) in the UK.

Mervyn King, the current Governor of the Bank of England, is also currently the leader of the MPC. He noted that it will take a great amount of time for the economy of the UK to recover. The British Chambers of Commerce, a trade organisation representing British business abroad, have also stated that reconstruction is still currently "fragile".

David Kern, the chief economist of the BCC, commented: "We expected and support the [MPC's] decision to continue with a holding approach. But, it should consider new techniques aimed at improving the effectiveness of the quantitative easing programme." He also commented that "[g]iven the dangers still facing the economy, it is important that the MPC perseveres with an expansionary strategy. Threats of a double-dip recession remain more serious in the near future than risks of higher inflation."

The United Kingdom emerged from the financial crisis of 2008-09 in the fourth quarter of 2009. According to the BBC, recent official statistics revealed the country's economy grew by 0.4% in the final three months of last year.

British Airways and Iberia Sign Merger Deal

-- Wikinews

British Airways (BA) and the Spanish airline Iberia have signed a merger deal, which will create one of the largest air carrier groups in the world.

The two announced the merger yesterday, and said that the deal, which has been expected for a long time, is to be implemented by the end of 2010. The move will make a group with a market value of US$8 billion. The deal has been negotiated since July 2008.

Under the plan, both companies keep their own brands and operations, but will be owned by International Airlines Group, a new holding company. It will be listed in London, but taxed in Spain.

The airlines believe the merger will save $530 million annually. In February, BA reported a loss of $102.4 million for the final three quarters of 2009, whilst Iberia posted an operating loss of $629 million.

Meanwhile, investors in BA will receive an IAG share for every BA share they own, and stockholders in Iberia 1.0205 shares for each share in the Spanish airline; thus, BA shareholders will take 55% of IAG.

"The merged company will provide customers with a larger combined network," commented BA chief executive Willie Walsh. "It will also have greater potential for further growth by optimising the dual hubs of London and Madrid and providing continued investment in new products and services."

Meanwhile, Iberia chief executive Antonio Vasquez remarked: "This is an important step in creating one of the world's leading global airlines that will be better equipped to compete with other major airlines and participate in future industry consolidation."

Independent aviation specialist James Halstead said he believed the merger was necessary for BA to remain competitive amongst other European air carriers. "BA's unique position at Heathrow could help it survive for a short while, but in the long run it needs more than just Heathrow. The main point of the Iberia deal is to be able to cut costs and put the combined company in the position that Air France-KLM and Lufthansa are already in," he said, quoted by The Independent.

Iran Tests New Centrifuges

-- Wikinews

Ali Akbar Salehi, Head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, announced on Friday that Iran had successfully tested its third generation centrifuges. The new 200 millimeter diameter tubes are ten times as powerful as the ones operating in the Natanz uranium enrichment plant and are capable of spinning 900 times per second and producing 10 kilograms of UF6 in a year. The announcement came at a ceremony celebrating Iranian nuclear power. In attendance were President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Joint Armed Forces Chief of Staffs Major General Hassan Firouzabadi and Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili.

Despite Iran's claims that it's goals are for peaceful purposes only, Western powers, like the United States, remain alarmed at the nuclear program. This comes on the heels of an historic treaty signed by American president Barack Obama, who along with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, pledged a systematic disarmament and draw down of nuclear warheads to a total of 1500 for each country, and laid out guidelines for the use of the remaining warheads. These guidelines did not rule out the option of nuclear weapons being used against Iran. The two leaders also agreed on greater co-operation to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

This has not dissuaded Iran. "If America makes a crazy move, its interests will be endangered by Iran's allies around the globe," said Ahmad Khatami, a cleric and member of Iran's powerful Assembly of Experts. While Iran speaks of it's allies around the globe, the United States and other Western powers, are now seeking help from China and Russia to urge the UN to impose a fourth set of sanctions against Tehran.

Obama, Medvedev Sign Treaty Cutting Nuclear Stockpiles

-- Wikinews

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev have signed a treaty to reduce their countries' nuclear stockpiles by 25 to 30 percent over seven years.

In the Spanish Hall, an ornate chamber within the Czech capital's Prague Castle, the two countries, which own more than 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons, agreed to downsize their arsenals.

Presidents Obama and Medvedev sat in front of U.S. and Russian flags and signed their countries' first major nuclear arms reduction accord in almost two decades.

The new ten-year pact, which is called the "New START Treaty", requires the U.S. and Russia to cut their inventory of nuclear warheads to about 1,500 each in the next seven years. Both countries are estimated to have well over 2,000 warheads now.

The agreement also slashes by more than half the number of missiles, submarines and bombers that carry the weapons.

The pact replaces the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), which was signed by U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in the final days of the Soviet Union. START I expired in December of last year. The treaty complements the other two nuclear arms reduction treaties signed by the United States and Russia, which where the 1993 Russia, which where the 1993 START II treaty and the 2002 Moscow Treaty also known as SORT.

Obama said the treaty is a big step forward for world security. "Today is an important milestone for nuclear security and nonproliferation and for U.S.-Russia relations," he said.

Medvedev said because of this treaty, the entire world community has won. The Russian leader said the year-long negotiations were tough, but hard work on both sides brought success.

"That enabled us to do something that just a couple of months ago looked like 'mission impossible.' Within a short span of time we prepared a full-fledged treaty and signed it," he said.

Obama says, in addition, that the treaty paves the way for future arms reduction talks with Russia, mainly on short-range nuclear weapons. "This treaty will set the stage for further cuts, and going forward, we hope to pursue further discussions with Russia on reducing both our strategic and tactical weapons, including non-deployed weapons," he said.

Tom Collina, research director at the Arms Control Association, says the new treaty is significant in reducing the threat from U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, but more significant because it could lead to further cuts.

"We think we can even go to deeper reductions, and we hope they sign a new treaty after this one relatively soon. But this treaty is a great step forward, it is very important, and it puts U.S. and Russian arms control back on a firm footing, and, again, sets us up for deeper cuts," he said.

The signing of the "New START" treaty is one of several arms control developments taking place in several weeks.

Earlier in the week, President Obama announced a major shift in U.S. nuclear policy. He said for the first time that preventing nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism is at the top of the U.S. nuclear agenda. The threat of destruction by Russian warheads is now considered a secondary menace.

Under Obama's nuclear posture review, the U.S. pledges not to use nuclear weapons on non-nuclear countries that abide by their nonproliferation obligations.

Frank Gaffney, a former arms control adviser to President Ronald Reagan, says the president's nuclear posture review is based on a false and dangerous premise. "The idea that he can, by reducing America's nuclear arsenal, contribute to the universal abandonment of nuclear weaponry. It will not happen. It will not happen on his watch. It will not happen ever," he said.

Obama also plans to hold a conference on nuclear security next week in Washington, D.C..

In their hour-and-a-half meeting before the ceremony, President Obama urged Medvedev to support new U.N. sanctions against Iran for its refusal to stop enriching uranium. The Russian leader said the issue is not whether to impose sanctions, but what kind of sanctions.

"Smart sanctions should be able to motivate certain parties to behave properly, and I am confident that our teams that will be engaged in consultations will continue discussing this issue," he said.

Obama said, "We are working together at the United Nations Security Council to pass strong sanctions on Iran and we will not tolerate actions that flout the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty)." He added, "My expectation is that we are going to be able to secure strong, tough sanctions on Iran this spring."

The nuclear treaty is almost certain to be approved in the Russian Duma. However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Russia reserves the right to drop out of the pact if it believes U.S. missile defense plans for Europe threaten its security.

Many experts agree passage in the U.S. Senate is not as certain, but that its prospects are good. To ratify the treaty, it will require 67 votes, to pass it will require Republican votes. Republicans in the Senate have expressed concerns that too many restrictions have been placed on America's nuclear arsenal.

However, Obama is confident the treaty will be ratified when asked during a press conference following the signing. Obama stated, "And so I'm actually quite confident that Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate, having reviewed this, will see that the United States has preserved its core national security interests, that it is maintaining a safe and secure and effective nuclear deterrent, but that we are beginning to once again move forward, leaving the Cold War behind, to address new challenges in new ways."

Obama also noted, "[T]hat both in Russia and the United States, it’s going to be posed on the Internet, appropriate to a 21st century treaty. And so people not only within government but also the general public will be able to review, in an open and transparent fashion, what it is that we’ve agreed to." Copies of the treaty and it's protocol have been posted on the State Department's website.