U.S. Voices Optimism on Russian Threat Reduction Talks

Rose Gottemoeller, acting U.S. undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, on Thursday sounded cautious optimism on maintaining cooperation with Russia on the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program (U.S. State Department photo).
Rose Gottemoeller, acting U.S. undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, on Thursday sounded cautious optimism on maintaining cooperation with Russia on the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program (U.S. State Department photo).

ARLINGTON, Va. -- The U.S. State Department's top arms control envoy on Thursday described a "very positive environment" in negotiations last week to address Russia's coming withdrawal from an arrangement to dispose of Cold War-era nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

Moscow is poised in June to end participation in the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction initiative, which for more than two decades has provided U.S. financial and technical assistance for disposing of unconventional arms in former Soviet states. Russia has ruled out extending what it believes to be intrusive elements of the current implementing agreement, but has voiced openness to continuing the collaboration under updated terms.

"I see the possibility for joint progress on this effort," said Rose Gottemoeller, acting U.S. undersecretary of State for arms control and international security.

The Nunn-Lugar program was a central "focus" during Gottemoeller's Feb. 13-14 visit to Moscow, according to the State Department. She held "frank and productive" discussions on the situation as well as additional arms control and nonproliferation matters in meetings with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and other officials, the department said in prepared comments.

"Generally speaking," the CTR exchange "was a good, very workmanlike, technical discussion last week including expert delegations on both sides," she told Global Security Newswire. Russia showed an overall "readiness for pragmatic progress," she added while taking questions at the annual Nuclear Deterrence Summit organized by ExchangeMonitor Publications & Forums.

Ryabkov sounded similarly cautious optimism in remarks last week to Russian media. "We haven't reached the final station, when everyone must exit the cars, sit at the table, take each others' hands and sign something," he told Russia's Kommersant newspaper on Friday.

Gottemoeller added that "processes are under way" to begin negotiations with Moscow on pursuing further strategic and tactical nuclear arms cuts.

"I don't see these processes going through fits and starts," she said. "Clearly the political dynamics between Moscow and Washington aren't great right now," but U.S.-Russian relations have historically had "many peaks and valleys."

The New START treaty, which entered into force two years ago, requires Russia and the United States to each by 2018 reduce their deployed strategic nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems. Recent reporting has indicated President Obama backs a possible plan of further reductions down to between 1,000 and 1,100 warheads in conjunction with Moscow.

"The goal of achieving mutual reductions in strategic nuclear weapons, we don't do as a favor to the Russians, it's something that's in our national security interest," Gottemoeller said. "So we continue doggedly and seriously to pursue that goal."

"We clearly have some work to do," she continued, noting Russian concerns have persisted on matters including nuclear and non-nuclear forces in Europe, the development of conventional prompt global strike weapons, and NATO plans to deploy new missile defenses in and around the continent.

"It's interesting to me, however, that the Russians are talking about these issues as issues that have to be worked in the process of considering further reductions and further negotiations," Gottemoeller added. "So I don't see any hard fits and starts or any hard stops in a process that's ongoing and will continue to be ongoing."

"My trip to Moscow certainly reinforced that impression ... that we can still do business but we have to be patient at the same time," she said.

February 21, 2013
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ARLINGTON, Va. -- The U.S. State Department's top arms control envoy on Thursday described a "very positive environment" in negotiations last week to address Russia's coming withdrawal from an arrangement to dispose of Cold War-era nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.