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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

New START Deal Near Completion

The United States and Russia could soon reach agreement on a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expired in December, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an interview published yesterday.

A U.S. Trident D-5 submarine-launched ballistic missile takes off in a test. Washington and Moscow might be close to signing a new nuclear arms control agreement, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in remarks published yesterday (U.S. Navy photo).

"I'm optimistic that we'll be able to complete this agreement soon," Clinton told the Russian magazine The New Times, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

"It's a technically very complex treaty to accomplish. We share an interest in making real reductions in our strategic arsenals, and that is the most important point," she added (Xinhua News Agency I/People's Daily, March 15).

Clinton is expected to discuss the status of the pending agreement with top Russian officials during a two-day trip to Moscow starting Thursday, Agence France-Presse reported.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev pledged last July to cut their nations' respective strategic arsenals to between 1,500 and 1,675 deployed nuclear warheads under the new treaty. Negotiators have reportedly also agreed to reduce each state's arsenal of nuclear delivery vehicles -- missiles, submarines and bombers -- to between 700 and 800, down from the 1,100-vehicle limit set by the leaders.

Negotiators in Geneva, Switzerland, were working on a treaty with monitoring provisions that would be less expensive and easier to implement than its Cold War-era predecessor, Clinton said. Although the possibility of a worldwide nuclear conflict has decreased, the likelihood of individual nuclear strikes has grown, she said.

"By taking concrete steps such as the new START treaty, we can reduce our own stockpiles and encourage others to do the same," she said (Xinhua News Agency).

The latest round of negotiations began last week. Russia indicated that talks on the deal were proceeding smoothly, AFP reported.

"We have never spoken of any disagreements. A normal process of negotiation is under way. This is a very voluminous document," Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Nesterenko said.

The Obama administration's plans to deploy missile defenses in Europe remains the top issue of contention, according to defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer. Moscow wants the nuclear treaty to address the matter, but any restriction is not likely to gain approval from U.S. senators who must ratify the agreement.

"They are trying to find a formula that could suit both sides," Felgenhauer said.

"The United States wanted to sign an agreement quickly to improve the atmosphere" between the former Cold War rivals, he added. "But this did not happen and instead of refreshing relations it's been creating problems" (Williams, AFP).

One leading lawmaker in Moscow said today that failure to connect missile defense with nuclear weapons reductions could doom the new treaty's chances for ratification in Moscow, Xinhua reported.

The Russian lower house of parliament "will not ratify it, if it does not take into account the link between strategic offensive weapons and missile defense," said Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov according to Interfax (Xinhua News Agency II/People's Daily, March 16).

Meanwhile, Ukraine has offered itself as a site for a signing ceremony for the new treaty, according to the Kommersant daily (Williams, AFP).