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Obama Team Insists Security Effort with Russia Not Dead

By Douglas P. Guarino

Global Security Newswire

A Tu-160 strategic bomber in Ukraine undergoes dismantlement in 2001 with support from the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction initiative. The Obama administration on Thursday indicated it was still in talks with Russia on potentially renewing arrangements for Washington to assist in eliminating and securing Soviet-era nuclear weapons and other armaments (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky). A Tu-160 strategic bomber in Ukraine undergoes dismantlement in 2001 with support from the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction initiative. The Obama administration on Thursday indicated it was still in talks with Russia on potentially renewing arrangements for Washington to assist in eliminating and securing Soviet-era nuclear weapons and other armaments (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky).

WASHINGTON -- Obama administration officials on Thursday said that a bilateral effort to help secure weapons of mass destruction in Russia is not dead, despite Moscow’s announcement a day earlier that it is unwilling to extend an enabling agreement with the United States.

“We are still in talks,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said during a press briefing when asked about the future of the Cooperative Threat Reduction program in Russia.

Since the early 1990s, the United States has provided Russia with more than $7 billion in funds, equipment and expertise for securing and eliminating Soviet-era nuclear arms and other unconventional weapons through the CTR initiative. The program is enabled by an umbrella agreement that, among other things, shields the U.S. government and its contractors from virtually all liability stemming from incidents that might occur in the course of CTR work.

A statement by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Wednesday that Moscow is not interested in renewing the agreement when it expires in June 2013 -- confirming media reports the previous day -- has prompted questions as to whether CTR efforts in Russia will soon be ending.

Campaign advisers to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney were quoted on Thursday as saying that the Russian statements on the CTR agreement indicated a failure in the Obama administration’s nonproliferation agenda.

Nuland maintained on Thursday that CTR work in Russia is not necessarily finished, however.

“They have told us that they want revisions to the previous agreement,” she told reporters. “We are prepared to work with them on those revisions, and we want to have conversations about it.”

Nuland declined to elaborate on what specific changes to the agreement Russia has demanded, but it is widely known that Moscow considers the current liability provisions unfair. The deal nearly lapsed in 2006 due to Russian concerns over the liability issue, and other nuclear accords -- including the Nuclear Cities Initiative and the Plutonium Science and Technology agreements -- have already expired over liability disputes between Washington and Moscow.

Kenneth Luongo, president of the Partnership for Global Security, told GSN earlier this week that Russia could raise objections to other aspects of the program, such as a Defense Department requirement that it conduct inspections to ensure that any equipment it pays for in Russia has been properly installed. He said the Russians “balk” at this demand.

Luongo and other observers suggested it is still possible to negotiate a revised agreement, however, and the Obama administration is now also making that case.

“The President believes that the Cooperative Threat Reduction program is a valuable program that has been beneficial for United States national security,” Josh Earnest, White House principal deputy press secretary, said during a media gaggle aboard Air Force One on Thursday. “There is certainly more work to be done in that program and we’re going to engage in that effort.”

Earnest referenced a Wednesday statement by Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), who along with former Senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), championed the legislation that created the CTR program. The spokesman noted that it was Lugar’s “understanding that the Russians didn’t want to actually end the program, but rather that after 20 years of this program being in place, they wanted to update the program.

“And that’s certainly something that we will work with him to do,” Earnest 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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