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Russia, U.S. Seen Finishing New START Pact in April

(Mar. 3) -A Russian Topol-M ICBM, displayed at a parade last May in Moscow's Red Square. Russia and the United States could finish negotiating a key nuclear arms control treaty in April, one U.S. official said (Dmitry Kostyukov/Getty Images). (Mar. 3) -A Russian Topol-M ICBM, displayed at a parade last May in Moscow's Red Square. Russia and the United States could finish negotiating a key nuclear arms control treaty in April, one U.S. official said (Dmitry Kostyukov/Getty Images).

Arms control negotiators from Russia and the United States believe they could reach agreement by early next month on a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expired in December, CNN reported yesterday (see GSN, March 2).

Work on the pact has been "very tough," but "I think we can do it," said a U.S. official familiar with the talks.

Last July, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to cut their nations' respective strategic arsenals to between 1,500 and 1,675 deployed nuclear warheads under the new treaty. 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 nations remained divided over terms for monitoring compliance with the pact, such as the use of audits to check the other side's nuclear-armed missiles, the official said. "There are still some niggling technical details," the source said.

Delegations to the START talks in Geneva, Switzerland, have formulated "innovative" verification procedures, the official said. U.S. and Russian lawmakers could pay close attention to the finished agreement's monitoring provisions when they debate whether to ratify the document, CNN noted.

At the start of the talks nearly one year ago, Moscow sought a "minimalist" monitoring policy while Washington wanted a "solid, effective regime," according to the official: "We pushed them constantly for more. We always knew we would need a bridge to the next phase of deep reductions."

"We will see a strong verification process. We're developing a lot of new ways to bump up the verification regime," the official added.

The U.S. delegation to the talks has expanded from around a dozen members to 35 personnel, including attorneys and expert translators charged with ensuring that the English and Russian versions of the pact are identical in meaning.

Russian representatives include Defense Ministry and Federal Security Service officials who contribute their expertise on "the innards of the Russian strategic rocket forces," the official said, adding that Medvedev "is very serious about this and about the caliber of the people" involved in the talks.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush considered a new U.S.-Russian arms control treaty a low priority, according to CNN.

"The amount of disconnectedness" between the countries "at the end of the last administration was just incredible," said the official, who called the arms control negotiations under Obama a "revelation" and a "surprise."

The sides have developed a rapport that could advance anticipated discussions on further delivery system cuts and reductions to stockpiled and nonstrategic nuclear weapons, the official said (Jill Dougherty, CNN, March 2).

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