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Moscow Seeks Five-Way ‘Strategic Stability’ Talks

During a July 1-3 summit in Russia with French President Jacques Chirac, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested holding multilateral “strategic stability” talks, at which further U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear warhead cuts could be discussed.

A Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman clarified July 6 that Putin was calling for “a permanently operating consulting process on the problems of strategic stability” in which the five legally recognized nuclear-weapon states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, China, and France—would participate.

The spokesman also said that Russia hoped the five countries would discuss “drastic reductions” in U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals, going down to or below 1,500 deployed strategic warheads. The reductions would be implemented by 2008 “under the strict control provided by the agreements START I and START II.” Russia hopes the other three countries “also will continue to show restraint in the nuclear field,” the spokesman added.

By December, the United States and Russia each will have reduced their deployed arsenals to 6,000 strategic warheads under START I, but the diplomatic process for pursuing further cuts has stalled. Both states have ratified START II, requiring them to cap their arsenals at 3,500 deployed warheads, but a Russian legislative requirement linking the accord to disputed missile defense issues has prevented the treaty from entering into force. Also, START III negotiations, which the two sides agreed in 1997 would cap warhead limits at 2,500 deployed warheads, have failed to start, and the Bush administration appears reluctant to conclude a formal treaty on nuclear cuts.

With this proposal, it appears that Putin is trying to marshal international support for both deep, negotiated reductions—which could conceivably involve other countries once the United States and Russia had reached extremely low levels—and maintenance of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

When asked about the proposal during a July 13 press briefing, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said that President George W. Bush is already considering unilaterally reducing U.S. nuclear weapons and that the administration is not interested in seeking a “one-to-one match with the Russians.” Moscow and Washington subsequently agreed to and have held bilateral consultations on offensive reductions and defensive systems. (See U.S.-Russian Differences Remain On Missile Defenses, ABM Treaty.)