WASHINGTON -- A senior Pentagon official on Thursday said the United States and Russia could still reach a new agreement to continue collaborating on efforts to protect Soviet-era weapons of mass destruction after the nations' existing deal expires in June.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that we will find a way because there is interest in both sides in continuing important aspects of this cooperation,” said Andrew Weber, assistant Defense secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics on matters related to WMD defense programs.
The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program since 1991 has supplied Russia with substantive U.S. financial and technical assistance for eliminating and securing aging nuclear warheads, chemical warfare materials, and other unconventional arms. Russia has complained about the terms of the existing deal and has suggested it does not intend to continue forward with the joint work after this summer.
Referring to the CTR program and a separate scientific collaboration project, Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak said "these agreements suffer from very similar problems because the immunities and privileges that are granted for American partners are not exactly acceptable currently."
Moscow no longer faces the significant economic troubles experienced in the 1990s following the fall of the Soviet Union, the diplomat added during a panel discussion with Weber at the Woodrow Wilson Center. The Russian economy has “since grown enormously," Kislyak noted.
The Kremlin wants any future cooperation with the United States on WMD security to be undertaken on an equal basis.
Weber said he anticipates “we will find a way for many of the programs that are currently implemented under the umbrella agreement to continue in a different legal framework.” He did not offer details.
“What we are working on with our colleagues on the American side is how to find a legal instruments and formulas that will allow” CTR cooperation to continue, Kislyak said.
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller discussed options for continuing Nunn-Lugar with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov last month in Moscow. The two senior diplomats are slated to shortly take up the issue again in Geneva, according to Weber.
Kislyak suggested that a separate cooperative counter-WMD effort is unlikely to be extended past 2015.
The multinationally financed International Science and Technology Center opened its headquarters in Moscow with the intention of providing research opportunities for former Soviet Union Scientists with expertise in the development of weapons of mass destruction. The thought was that scientists with a steady source of income would be less tempted to go to work for rogue states or terrorist groups.
A deal was reached in 2011 to keep the Moscow hub open for another four years while moving activities to the ISTC branch in Kazakhstan.
The agreement that enabled the Moscow site to open in 1994 was only reached due to Russia's troubled circumstances, Kislyak said. "The conditions and agreement that Russia allowed at the time for the center to operate were pretty unique." The facility was not subject to taxes and the ISTC head had diplomatic immunity, among other measures.
"At the time, it was done to speed up the process of negotiations and to promote early creation of the center. But those circumstances have changed including" the need to provide employment to Russian scientists, the ambassador said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect job title for Andrew Weber, assistant Defense secretary for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs.