WASHINGTON -- A senior U.S. State Department official yesterday voiced dissatisfaction with Russia's response to an offer the United States made in negotiations over a new agreement to replace the soon-to-expire Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (see GSN, Nov. 9).
"I think we're very disappointed about the response we got from the package that national security adviser [James] Jones delivered 10 days ago," Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher told reporters after delivering a speech at George Washington University. "But at the same time, we want to move forward. And we're very interested in ... hearing where our colleagues are in Geneva."
Tauscher would not elaborate on the Russian response to Jones' late-October proposal, which the White House official delivered by hand in Moscow, or why Washington found it inadequate.
Her comments caught some observers by surprise, given that Moscow's initial public comments on the so-called "New START" offer appeared to be positive.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko on Nov. 5 called the U.S. offer a "constructive proposal" and expressed confidence that an agreement would be signed by Dec. 5, when the 1991 START accord expires (see GSN, Nov. 5).
Details of the U.S.-drafted compromise remain secret, but were said to have made headway in bridging remaining differences between the two sides. The Jones offer is believed to have pegged a limit on nuclear-capable delivery platforms at roughly 700, and to have accepted a Russian demand that any conventionally armed long-range missiles be tallied under the total caps, the Washington Post reported Sunday.
U.S. and Russian diplomats this week resumed negotiations over the new agreement in Geneva, Switzerland.
The White House said Monday that the arms pact would be on the agenda when U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev meet in Singapore this weekend, during a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation member states.
A spokesman for the White House's National Security Council acknowledged that "differences" remain to be ironed out, but would not offer specifics.
"As in any negotiation, we are continuing a robust dialogue with Russia, and working through our differences," Mike Hammer said in a statement provided to Global Security Newswire. "But the state of our relationship is constructive, and we are committed to working together to make progress."
The chief of the Russian General Staff yesterday pointed to "technical" problems as the source of differences between the two sides, and called the negotiations "very intensive."
"There are problems that require synchronization," Gen. Nikolai Makarov said in Moscow, according to RIA Novosti. "These are mainly technical issues because there are some parameters that have to be agreed."
Washington-based arms control experts said it appears that progress has been made in agreeing on specific numerical ceilings for warheads and delivery vehicles.
Obama and Medvedev announced in July that the new agreement would cap deployed nuclear warheads at 1,500 to 1,675, while limiting delivery platforms to somewhere between 500 and 1,100 (see GSN, July 6).
The 2002 Moscow Treaty allowed each side to maintain as many as 2,200 warheads on no more than 1,600 launch vehicles.
However, differences over verification provisions are proving thorny during the negotiations to replace the existing pact, observers said. These are measures, such as on-site inspections and missile test-data monitoring, that both nations take to build confidence that the other side is fulfilling its treaty commitments.
"The main sticking points on verification have been Russian efforts to seek relief from provisions that provide the United States with monitoring of Russia's primary missile production facility at Votkinsk and prohibit encryption of missile telemetry" used in testing, said Jeffrey Lewis, who directs the New America Foundation's Nuclear Strategy and Nonproliferation Initiative.
Writing last week on his blog, ArmsControlWonk.com, Lewis explained that these particular monitoring provisions prove more of a burden for Moscow than Washington "because Russia is building new missiles (Topol-M and Bulava) while the United States is not."
"I suspect we're going to lose Votkinsk, but I hope we can hang onto the telemetry," Lewis told GSN today. "The Obama administration is playing a bad hand, given to them by their predecessors. If the worst price we end up paying for the Bush administration's incompetence is losing monitoring of Votkinsk, then the Obama administration will have done a pretty good job."
Meanwhile, Moscow is concerned about the U.S. potential for "upload" on its delivery platforms that are capable of holding multiple warheads. Verifying exactly how many warheads are actually deployed on delivery vehicles -- bombers, submarines and ICBMs -- might involve more intrusive inspection regimes than either side has accepted in the past.
"Each side has their preferences on verification, plain and simple. [It] doesn't really capture the situation to say that the Russians don't want as much verification," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. "How do you give each side sufficient assurance, from their perspective, that the agreement is being complied with?"
Hammer, the NSC spokesman, said Obama and Medvedev remain "committed to completing a treaty this year that will better secure our people and jumpstart global nonproliferation efforts."
"While there are still issues being worked out," he added, "President Obama looks forward to the opportunity to meet with President Medvedev in Singapore so that they can move toward our goal of a strong treaty by the end of this year."
Editor’s Note: This article was modified after publication to remove one arms control expert's remarks about Bush administration policy regarding the Votkinsk factory, which were inaccurate and subsequently withdrawn.