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Leaders See Pressing Need to Complete Nuke Pact, Official Says

(Feb. 25) -Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, left, and U.S. President Barack Obama speak at a December meeting in Denmark. The leaders agreed in a telephone conversation yesterday on the need to promptly complete a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Jewel Samad/Getty Images). (Feb. 25) -Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, left, and U.S. President Barack Obama speak at a December meeting in Denmark. The leaders agreed in a telephone conversation yesterday on the need to promptly complete a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Jewel Samad/Getty Images).

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed in a telephone conversation yesterday that they must push their negotiating teams to finish work on a major nuclear arms control agreement, a White House official told the Associated Press (see GSN, Feb. 24).

Obama and Medvedev pledged last July to cut their nations' respective strategic arsenals to between 1,500 and 1,675 deployed nuclear warheads under the successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expired in December. 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.

The White House official did not discuss remaining areas of disagreement in the talks, but the problems were considered surmountable. The sides were widely understood to disagree on terms for monitoring compliance with the pending treaty (Barry Schweid, Associated Press I/Washington Post, Feb. 24).

Medvedev referred to "the importance of completing the negotiations within a short period of time” and to “sign as soon as possible this document of fundamental importance for strategic security and stability," ITAR-Tass reported.

Both leaders said they would call on their negotiators in Geneva, Switzerland, to expedite their work (ITAR-Tass, Feb. 24).

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Kremlin hopes the completed treaty will connect strategic arms reductions to limitations on a planned U.S. missile shield in Europe, according to RIA Novosti.

"Our president and his American counterpart reaffirmed their agreements, and the negotiating teams in Geneva must heed a connection between strategic offensive weapons and defensive armaments," he said. "We expect our American negotiators will set out this connection (in the new treaty) as it has been agreed on (by the presidents)" (RIA Novosti I, Feb. 25).

If the treaty failed to make that link, it would face an uphill battle for ratification by Russia's legislature, Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachyov said in Washington.

He had said Tuesday, though, that lawmakers on Capitol Hill told him that such a connection would inhibit the pact's chances for ratification by the U.S. Senate. Obama administration officials have said the new deal would not restrict U.S. missile defense activities.

"The issue of interrelationship between a strategic arms reduction treaty and the missile defense system has always been and remains a key issue of Russian-U.S. accords in the spheres of arms control," Kosachyov said.

"If the connection between the ... treaty and missile defense is not exhaustively fixed by the sides in preparing the treaty ... this would automatically create obstacles for subsequent ratification of the document in the state Duma and create additional difficulties for further advance in cutting strategic offensive weapons," he said.

In an effort to end the impasse, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday proposed a combined Russian-NATO missile defense system.

"Unfortunately, I know nothing about NATO's missile defense system. I know a lot about the U.S. missile defense system, but nothing about NATO's system," Kosachyov said (RIA Novosti II, Feb. 24).

Despite "very complicated" talks, Washington and Moscow were likely to complete the deal in the near future, Russian General Staff chief Gen. Nikolai Makarov said in comments aired yesterday.

Makarov added that the planned European missile shield remained a sticking point in the negotiations, AP reported (Associated Press II/Washington Post, Feb. 24).

In a Tuesday telephone call, the top U.S. and Russian diplomats "confirmed the need to concentrate the work of the delegations in Geneva on strict observance of the fundamental understandings reached by the presidents of Russia and the United States," the Xinhua News Agency quoted Lavrov as saying.

"If we manage to stick to this principle, I am confident that work on the treaty will be completed soon enough," he said (Xinhua News Agency, Feb. 24).

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