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U.S. Statesmen Lobby Russian Officials to Seek Nuclear Cuts

A veteran group of U.S. statesmen visited Moscow this week to encourage the restoration of U.S.-Russian arms control efforts and the eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons, the New York Times reported today (see GSN, March 13).

The group former -- Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former Defense Secretary William Perry and former Senator Sam Nunn -- met with top Russian officials yesterday and was scheduled to see Russian President Dmitry Medvedev today.

The four authored a 2007 call for global nuclear elimination that has revived hope among disarmament activists that their long-sought goal might someday be achieved (see GSN, March 17).

Also in Moscow this week was former Secretary of State James Baker, who urged officials to focus on more immediate concerns, particularly the looming expiration of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The 1991 pact limits U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles, but it is scheduled to lapse in December along with its extensive verification provisions.

Baker lamented declining U.S.-Russian relations in recent years, but expressed confidence they could be restored.

"We ought to be big enough on both sides to admit that blame can be directed at both countries for this deterioration in Russian-U.S. relations,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with doing whatever we can to get this relationship back on the track it was on up until the last few years” (Andrew Kramer, New York Times, March 20).

In Washington, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) agreed that the START successor must be a priority.

"The foundation of the U.S.-Russian strategic relationship is at risk of collapsing in less than nine months," he said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. "We should carefully set priorities. Solidifying the START verification regime must be the primary focus" (Agence France-Presse/Google News, March 19).

Where to go with a new agreement could be contentious, however, as Russia might seek a broader pact rather than a simple extension.

"It would be counterproductive to automatically extend the treaty, which already has been fulfilled and no longer could provide efficient means of strategic arms control," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said yesterday. "We are proposing to take the best from the START treaty, including verification mechanisms, and set new, lower limits for strategic weapons and nuclear warheads."

He also expressed concern that U.S. President Barack Obama might continue a Bush administration initiative to arm strategic missiles with conventional warheads. Some experts have warned that such weapons could easily be mistaken for nuclear weapons and trigger catastrophic responses from adversaries (see GSN, Sept. 15, 2008; Vladimir Isachenkov, Associated Press/Google News, March 19).

Obama and Medvedev could lay the groundwork for treaty talks when they meet for the first time on April 1 at a global economic summit in London, Reuters reported.

"We hope that in London we will get concrete instructions on what parameters and to what tempo we should work," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters today.

"The time remaining until December allows (us) to work out a serious and detailed document," he added. "Signals from Washington show that commitment to move in that direction also exists there and this is very positive" (Oleg Shchedrov, Reuters/Washington Post, March 20).

[Editor's Note: Sam Nunn is co-chairman and chief executive officer of the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is the sole sponsor of Global Security Newswire, which is published independently by the National Journal Group.]

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