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Obama Seen Laying Groundwork for Arms Control Push

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, shown on Monday in Paris, meet over the weekend with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Top U.S. officials are holding talks that experts said are aimed at refreshing the Obama administration's nuclear arms control efforts (AP Photo/Christophe Ena). U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden, shown on Monday in Paris, meet over the weekend with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Top U.S. officials are holding talks that experts said are aimed at refreshing the Obama administration's nuclear arms control efforts (AP Photo/Christophe Ena).

WASHINGTON -- Senior Obama administration officials in the last week have launched a series of trips to foreign capitals in what experts described as a push to reinvigorate President Obama's nuclear arms control agenda as he begins his second term in office.

Vice President Joseph Biden said on Saturday that Obama's State of the Union address on Feb. 12 will establish an agenda reflecting "our shared interests in ... advancing a comprehensive nuclear agenda to strengthen the nonproliferation regime, reduce global stockpiles and secure nuclear materials."

White House national security adviser Tom Donilon on Monday said he would "visit Russia probably in the next month" for talks with President Vladimir Putin.

"We do have important conversations to have with the Russians on security and on what is in the future here in terms of potential arms reductions," Donilon told U.S. journalist Charlie Rose.

"The president`s committed to his Prague agenda," he added. "The speech that he gave in Prague in 2009 committing us to lower this world`s reliance on nuclear weapons and further reductions in concert with the Russians if possible, as part of that agenda."

The State Department said its top arms control official would meet on Tuesday with counterparts from NATO and the European Union to address "a wide range of arms control and international security issues." The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and a possible space code of conduct were among subjects of a broad discussion between EU diplomat Maceij Popowski and Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. acting undersecretary of State for arms control and international security, a spokesman for the 27-nation bloc told Global Security Newswire.

A "good level of understanding and cooperation" was evident between the sides, Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, added in an e-mail statement. Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, Israel and Russia are other scheduled destinations for Gottemoeller's trip, the State Department indicated.

Informed observers said they see the spate of meetings as part of new push to advance the arms control goals articulated by President Obama in the widely touted speech in Prague.

Since that address, the United States and Russia have enacted the New START treaty that obligates them to reduce their deployed strategic nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems. However, there has been no sign of progress toward negotiations of further and perhaps broader bilateral nuclear arms reductions. Other priorities cited nearly four years ago by Obama, including U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and establishment of a pact banning production of fissile material for nuclear weapons, also have not yet been realized.

“The forays and the conversations they’re having make sense at this particular time given the important work that’s yet to be done on the president’s nuclear risk-reduction agenda," said Daryl Kimball, who heads the Washington-based Arms Control Association.

In a Saturday meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Biden "emphasized the importance of the two countries working together in the interest of international peace and security," the vice president's office stated. A Russian diplomatic insider suggested a new anti-WMD deal could serve as a basis for wider collaboration between the governments, Russia's Kommersant newspaper reported on Monday.

Threat reduction efforts would be a focus during Gottemoeller's talks in Moscow later this month, according to a Russian news report from last week. A bilateral enabling agreement for the Cooperative Threat Reduction operations in Russia is due to expire in June; Moscow has indicated it does not intend to renew the deal aimed at securing and eliminating Soviet-era weapons of mass destruction and related materials.

"The continuation of cooperation on those programs is a fundamental security interest of both" Russia and the United States, Kimball said. "The real question is how the terms of the framework agreement can be adjusted to reflect the fact that Russia is a much more capable partner today than when the program was established."

Updating the deal "should be one of the simpler tasks on their bilateral agenda" and could be accomplished early this year, he said.

Nonproliferation matters were an anticipated focus of Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman's visit to China this week, the department said in a press release on Friday. Foggy Bottom declined to elaborate on the substance of Countryman's Feb. 3-7 trip, but North Korea's anticipated nuclear test would likely figure high on the agenda, said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project for the Federation of American Scientists.

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