President Barack Obama is about to sign a new nuclear arms agreement with Russia. But in advance of Wednesday's trip to Prague, the Obama administration laid out its own changes to the nation's nuclear weapons posture.
The most controversial part of Obama's new nuclear weapons policy is that the U.S. will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, even if those states attack with chemical or biological weapons. That reverses a post-Sept. 11 Bush administration policy.
There are exceptions for Iran and North Korea or any other country which violates the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
"If you're not going to play by the rules, if you're going to be a proliferator, then all options are on the table in terms of how we deal with you," Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said.
In San Francisco Tuesday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called it an important statement that will make a difference.
"Trying to speak to a country like Iran and say, 'No, you really should not continue to pursue a weapon of mass destruction, a nuclear weapon,'" Pelosi said.
In Washington, the Republican response has been muted. Arizona senators John McCain and Jon Kyle issued a joint statement saying, "The Obama administration must clarify that we will take no option off the table to deter attacks against the American people and our allies."
Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner says, "By unilaterally taking a nuclear response off the table, we are decreasing our options without getting anything in return."
Pelosi says that misstates the president's policy.
"What the president is saying is, if a member of a nonproliferation treaty organization attacks us, we will not respond with nuclear weapons, but we reserve the right, we reserve the right to make that decision, should we be faced with that circumstance, the president always has the right, there's nothing taken off the table," she said.
Commonwealth Club President Gloria Duffy is a former nuclear arms negotiator under the Clinton administration. She says the president may be using the policy change as a stick to pressure Iran and North Korea. It also could discourage other countries from pursuing their own nuclear weapons.
"It was a hard fought debate within the administration," she said. "I think it's probably intended to prevent a wholesale defection from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Wednesday, the president flies to Prague to sign the new nuclear weapons reduction treaty with Russia's president. Next week, he hosts a nuclear security summit with the leaders of 45 nations and in May a nonproliferation treaty review conference in New York.