Russia and the United States are "close to agreement on practically all questions" over a pending successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expired in December, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said yesterday (see GSN, March 1).
"In essence, we have reached the final part of negotiations," Reuters quoted Medvedev as saying. "I hope these negotiations will be finished in the very near future."
Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama pledged last July 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.
After wrapping up a one-month negotiation session Saturday, Russian and U.S. officials plan to reconvene March 9 in Geneva, Switzerland, "with the aim of finalizing the future treaty and presenting it for signing by the presidents of Russia and the United States," the Russian Foreign Ministry stated yesterday (Denis Dyomkin, Reuters, March 1).
Medvedev expressed general support for President Obama's global nuclear disarmament agenda, but he warned that a world without nuclear weapons would be difficult to achieve, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Feb. 19).
"Global zero is a beautiful idea but, as you'll understand, this idea can only be reached as a result of concerted work by all nuclear states," he stated.
Russia requires "confidence that 'stowaways' will not remain in the nuclear club -- those who got there without a ticket," he said, referring to nations that possess nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
"We cannot leave this issue without oversight," Medvedev said (Anna Smolchenko, Agence France-Presse I/Google News, March 1).
Russia has sought the right to stop participating in the START replacement if the nation deemed U.S. missile defenses to undermine the deterrent capability of its ICBM fleet, a high-level U.S. official told the McClatchy Newspapers yesterday.
The United States has ruled out such a provision over concerns that it could prevent the document from receiving congressional approval. Ratification of the treaty would require the support of 66 U.S. senators, meaning that no fewer than seven Republican lawmakers in the chamber would have to endorse the pact.
"The issue here is what do the Russians feel they need, but also keeping an eye on not trying to complicate the ratification process," the official said.
"We don't think that these problems are insurmountable," he added. "We are trying to find a way to manage Russian concerns."
Obama and Medvedev failed in a telephone conversation last week to end the deadlock. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addressed the issue in a separate telephone call, but they were also unable to negotiate a solution.
A U.S. expert brushed off Russian concerns about an Obama administration plan to field 20 Standard Missile 3 interceptors in Romania as part of a larger European missile shield (see GSN, March 1).
The SM-3 interceptor "has a configuration that gives it a range of 900 kilometers. That doesn't get it to Russia," said former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer. "They will not endanger Russia's ability to have a strong robust deterrent," he said (Jonathan Landay, McClatchy Newspapers, March 1).
In Washington, a forthcoming U.S. nuclear strategy review is expected to advocate significant cutbacks to the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile, a high-level Obama administration official reaffirmed in an AFP article (see GSN, March 1).
The Nuclear Posture Review "will point to dramatic reductions in the stockpile, while maintaining a strong and reliable deterrent through the investments that have been made in the budget," the official said.
In addition, the document would "point to a greater role for conventional weapons in deterrence" and reject any role for nuclear bunker-buster bombs in hitting hardened facilities, the official said.
Descriptions of the report, though, indicate "a very conventional document that will fall far short of the president's rhetoric" on nuclear disarmament, analyst Jeffrey Lewis wrote in the Arms Control Wonk blog (Tangi Quemener, Agence France-Presse II/Yahoo!News, March 2).