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Russian Approval of Key Weapons Security Agreement Uncertain, Lugar Says

By Douglas P. Guarino

Global Security Newswire

Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) in 2002 examines a SS-18 ICBM being readied for dismantlement in Russia with support from the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction initiative. Lugar on Thursday said it is unclear if Moscow will endorse an Obama administration draft proposal for extending the CTR program’s authorizing agreement (U.S. Senator Richard Lugar photo). Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) in 2002 examines a SS-18 ICBM being readied for dismantlement in Russia with support from the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction initiative. Lugar on Thursday said it is unclear if Moscow will endorse an Obama administration draft proposal for extending the CTR program’s authorizing agreement (U.S. Senator Richard Lugar photo).

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration has drafted a proposal that would extend a key weapons security agreement between the United States and Russia but it is uncertain whether Moscow will approve draft deal, Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) said on Thursday.

The so-called umbrella agreement, which allows the United States to conduct Cooperative Threat Reduction operations in Russia, is due to expire in June 2013.

The program established two decades ago by Lugar and then-Senator Sam Nunn aims to secure or deactivate nuclear and other unconventional weapons systems left over from the Soviet Union. It has provided U.S. funds and personnel support to Russia and other nations toward that end. To date, the Russian component of the program has eliminated more than 7,000 strategic nuclear warheads and over 900 ballistic missiles, among other accomplishments.

The agreement, originally forged in 1992, was last renewed in 2006 when Russia at the 11th hour signed off on extending the original pact without making substantial changes. The deal came within hours of expiration due to Moscow’s concerns over the pact’s liability provisions.

Lugar said the new draft agreement being floated by the Obama administration is virtually identical to the current pact, and merely revises the dates on the document so that the deal would continue to be binding beyond its currently scheduled expiration next year. The draft text was sent to the Russians within the last 60 days by acting Undersecretary of State Rose Gottemoeller and has yet to reach the highest levels of government in either Washington or Moscow.

Lugar, who briefed reporters on his trip this month to Russia and other former Soviet states, said the ideal scenario would be for Moscow to simply approve the proposed text. Modifying the agreement any further could trigger a legislative review in Russia, a scenario that Lugar said could delay negotiations.

However, the senator acknowledged that an obstacle to winning Moscow’s approval could be that the draft deal does nothing to address the liability issues officials there have raised in the past.

Lugar said his meetings with Russian officials left him with the “impression that they had not had great debate or discussion within their ministries” on the issue. However, government staffers “were not certain that simply changing the date was going to be adequate,” he added.

Under the original umbrella agreement, the U.S. government and its contractors are shielded from virtually all liability stemming from any accidents that could occur in the course of the Cooperative Threat Reduction initiative’s work with nuclear and chemical weapons in Russia. U.S. entities are not only shielded from liability for accidents, but also intentional acts of sabotage for which they otherwise would be considered responsible.

Other nuclear accords between the United States and Russia in the past have been allowed to lapse amid disputes over such liability issues. For example, the Nuclear Cities Initiative and the Plutonium Science and Technology agreements – initially signed in 1998 – were not renewed when they expired in 2003.

Issue experts have warned that a similar scenario is possible with the umbrella agreement.

The liability provisions in the umbrella agreement and other such pacts were “negotiated essentially when the Soviet Union had just collapsed and Russia’s lawyers weren’t really paying attention yet,” Matthew Bunn, an associate professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government who served as a nuclear security adviser to the Clinton administration, previously told Global Security Newswire.

As Russia’s position in the world strengthens the likelihood that it will hold up renewal agreements over such issues increases, Bunn and other observers have said.

While many of the large-scale construction projects administered and funded by the Cooperative Threat program are mainly complete, the United States continues to administer a broad array of initiatives in Russia that could suffer a blow if umbrella agreement dissolves, Bunn warned.

In addition to maintaining the Mayak fissile material storage facility, the United States is also involved with facility security upgrades and efforts to strengthen nuclear protective regulations in Russia, Bunn said.

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GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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