Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday that unprecedented limits being placed on the U.S. nuclear arsenal won't weaken the nation's defense and will send a "strong message" to Iran and North Korea to "play by the rules."
Under the plan, the U.S. would narrow the circumstances under which a nuclear weapon would be used. The new policy would not apply to states like North Korea and Iran because of their refusal to cooperate with the international community on nonproliferation standards.
"All options are on the table when it comes to countries in that category," Gates said.
Obama also has stopped short of saying the U.S. will never be the first to launch a nuclear attack, as many arms control advocates want.
Gates said the administration decided against limiting the nation's options further because of the danger still being posed by the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
"This is obviously a weapon of last resort," Gates told reporters at a press conference at the Pentagon. But "we also recognize the real world we continue to live in."
Gates was joined by other cabinet members in announcing the plan, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.
Gates said that a new policy restricting the use of nuclear weapons did not apply to countries such as Iran and North Korea, which are pursuing nuclear weapons in defiance of the international community.
He said "all options are on the table when it comes to countries in that category." He also said the U.S. was moving toward a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons, but wasn't yet ready to do so. Gates said he didn't believe "we were far enough along the road" toward controlling nuclear weapons around the world to give up the right to pre-emptive strikes.
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.