Diplomats from the United States and Russia on Wednesday gathered for another meeting of a bilateral arms control group in Washington that included a discussion of missile defense, ITAR-Tass reported (see GSN, Dec. 1).
Moscow and Washington are at odds over the Obama administration's plans for a European missile shield, which Russia says could target its nuclear forces. The administration also hopes to negotiate additional reductions in the two powers' nuclear arsenals.
The bilateral U.S.-Russian Arms Control and International Security Working Group was led by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and U.S. Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher. The two sides discussed their respective postures on matters such as the nuclear strategic balance.
The diplomats agreed to continue meeting in 2012, the State Department said (ITAR-Tass, Dec. 15).
Some in Washington are concerned that one of the top foreign policy achievements of the Obama White House -- the strategic "reset" with Russia -- is in jeopardy as the two former Cold War antagonists take different positions on a range of issues such as missile defense and proper responses to the Arab Spring protests, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.
Earlier this month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned he could end Russian participation in the New START arms control treaty if a compromise could not be reached with Washington on its plans to establish a missile shield in Europe. The landmark nuclear disarmament treaty requires both sides to cap their deployed strategic nuclear arsenals at 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems. The Obama administration had hoped that the treaty's implementation in February would be followed by new formal bilateral negotiations on curbing tactical nuclear weapons or other systems. There are no signs that such talks are imminent.
Medvedev also threatened to deploy tactical Iskander missiles in the Russian Baltic enclave, which borders several NATO states, as a response to U.S.-NATO missile defense efforts.
"After being assured that the New START treaty would contribute to the improvement of U.S.-Russia relations, and that the Russian government would not use the treaty against us as blackmail, we are now in a situation where the president of Russia is threatening to deploy ballistic missiles to destroy U.S. missile defense systems in Europe," U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said last week.
Obama officials acknowledge they have been taken aback by the ferocity of the Kremlin's recent threats but said there is not much that can be done on the matter at present. The talk from Russia might be a result of the election cycle leading to next year's presidential polling but the situation could be aggravated if Washington responds with verbal force.
The reset troubles occur alongside U.S. efforts to persuade Russia to lean harder on a commercial partner, Iran, over its contested nuclear program and as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- a regular critic of U.S. policy -- prepares to retake the presidency.
The United States in November decided to cease providing Russia with information on its non-nuclear weapon systems stationed in Europe as is mandated by a two-decade old treaty. Moscow had already canceled its participation in the agreement.
Still, U.S.-Russian relations are not as bad as they were when Russia attacked neighboring Georgia in summer 2008, according to AP (Bradley Klapper, Associated Press/Google News, Dec. 15).