Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by telephone Saturday in an effort to move toward finalizing a landmark nuclear arms control treaty, the New York Times reported (see GSN, March 12).
In their half-hour conversation, the leaders sought to deal with roadblocks to replacing the now-expired 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ahead of Obama's Global Nuclear Security Summit, which is scheduled for next month in Washington, according to the Times.
"It is now possible to talk about specific dates for the submission of the draft START treaty for signing by the heads of state," the Kremlin said in a statement.
Washington offered a more restrained comment on the leaders' discussion. They “had a good conversation” on "the progress and consensus reached" over the agreement by Russian and U.S. negotiating teams in Geneva, Switzerland, U.S. National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said. "The results of their talks are encouraging, and both leaders are committed to concluding an agreement soon," he said.
Medvedev and 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.
Medvedev made the call to verify that the sides had reached agreement on a number of matters in the talks, Obama administration officials said, noting that negotiators still had to resolve various differences on terms for monitoring compliance with the treaty.
In a telephone call with Obama last month, Medvedev revived concerns over the treaty that Washington thought had been addressed. The setback produced some reluctance in the White House to arrange another conversation between the leaders, but "a very good week in Geneva" raised hope that Russia was willing to finalize the treaty, one administration official said.
"We're getting close to an understanding" on missile defense, one of the officials added. Moscow has called for the treaty to link nuclear arms cutbacks to limitations on a planned U.S. missile shield in Europe, but Washington has resisted inclusion of such language.
"We're not ready to declare victory, but we think it was a good step forward," another official said (Peter Baker, New York Times, March 13).