Top U.S. Negotiator Pushes for "New START" Ratification by End of Summer

(Apr. 27) -U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, shown last year, urged the Senate yesterday to before fall ratify a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control pact that would replace the now-expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Alberto Pizzoli/Getty Images).
(Apr. 27) -U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller, shown last year, urged the Senate yesterday to before fall ratify a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control pact that would replace the now-expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Alberto Pizzoli/Getty Images).

WASHINGTON -- The lead U.S. negotiator on the new nuclear arms control treaty signed earlier this month by Russia and the United States yesterday called on the Senate to ratify the pact before fall (see GSN, April 23).

Senior Obama administration officials had previously said they hoped to get lawmaker approval of the so-called "New START" agreement by the end of the year, though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said a vote might not be possible until early 2011 (see GSN, April 14).

"We are looking to submit the package to the Senate in the first weeks of May," said Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation. "It's going to be a very intense process, but we hope we can carry it through this summer."

She spoke at a lunch event sponsored by the Arms Control Association.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the new agreement on April 8. It would require each side to limit its fielded strategic nuclear arsenal to 1,550 warheads and its missiles, submarines and bombers to 800. Of those delivery platforms, 700 could be operationally deployed.

The two nations had been required under the 2002 Moscow Treaty to reduce their deployed arsenals to no more than 2,200 warheads each by 2012.

Washington and Moscow have completed all the annexes to the agreement -- technical and verification-related details that were not yet ready at the time of the signing ceremony -- and plan to officially exchange these supporting documents this week, Gottemoeller said.

U.S. ratification of the New START accord would require a two-thirds majority vote on the floor of the Senate.

"It's a fast time table, we recognize it," Gottemoeller said. "But we do think that with focus and intensity and keeping our eye on the ball that we can make it happen."

To enter into force, the accord also must be approved by the Russian parliament. U.S. leaders are coordinating with their Moscow counterparts to see if the two nations' legislative processes might occur at relatively the same time, the U.S. envoy said (see GSN, April 9). Mikhail Margelov, head of the Russian Federation Council's international affairs panel, was reported yesterday to suggest that lawmakers there could ratify the treaty next month.

Washington and Moscow intend within the next few months to begin discussing steps toward a follow-on treaty that could impose lower caps on strategic weapons and perhaps place some limits on tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe, Gottemoeller said (see GSN, April 23). The emphasis now, though, should be focused on New START ratification, she added.

"Both of us are absolutely resolved that we must put the priority on ratification of this treaty," Gottemoeller said.

One aspect of the New START agreement that has proven somewhat controversial in Washington is a provision that allows each nuclear-capable strategic bomber aircraft to be counted as a single warhead, despite a capacity to deliver numerous weapons.

Russia maintains 75 strategic-range bombers capable of carrying 838 nuclear-armed missiles and bombs, according to Robert Norris of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists. Meanwhile, the U.S. military fields 60 operational bombers that can draw from a pool of nearly 1,000 active missiles and bombs, the two experts will report in an upcoming article in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Gottemoeller said that during the negotiations that began a year ago, the two sides had explored the possibility of not attributing any nuclear warheads to bombers.

"Since heavy bombers on both sides are no longer on alert, they no longer carry warheads on a day-to-day basis," she said. "Therefore, we agreed -- in the case of bombers -- on an attribution rule of one warhead per heavy bomber rather than counting heavy bombers at zero warheads."

The idea of counting no warheads on bombers, she said, "frankly was discussed in Geneva and I said it's not the approach we want to take. We need at least an attribution rule which will underscore the fact that these bombers have the capability to deliver nuclear weapons, although they are not ready to do so on a day-to-day basis."

Gottemoeller also discussed possible next steps for future negotiations.

Though the Kremlin has pressed to enact limits on missile defenses as part of any further arms control negotiations, Gottemoeller said she expects discussion of defenses to address solely U.S.-Russian cooperation and to be separate from any upcoming talks about offensive weapon reductions.

The Obama administration has proposed deploying land- and sea-based interceptors in Europe to shield against potential short- and medium-range missiles launched by Iran. However, Russia has decried the U.S. plans, arguing the defensive system would undermine its own nuclear deterrence posture (see GSN, April 5).

"My own view is that there is a separate track under which that cooperation is going to go forward now with the Russian Federation," she said. "Working that with them will be a complicated matter -- I'm quite sure of that -- but it will be one where we will really, I think, be placing the emphasis in the next couple of months."

She added: "I don't see that it necessarily has to enter into the next reduction negotiation in any way, shape or form. And, in fact, I believe it will be worked and continue to be worked on a separate track."

One member of the audience asked whether it would be possible before the end of Obama's presidency to bring other nuclear powers -- including China, France and the United Kingdom -- into multilateral arms reductions talks. Gottemoeller offered a brief response before turning to the next question.

"If you're talking about eight years," she said with a smile.

April 27, 2010
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WASHINGTON -- The lead U.S. negotiator on the new nuclear arms control treaty signed earlier this month by Russia and the United States yesterday called on the Senate to ratify the pact before fall (see GSN, April 23).