In Moscow on December 10, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the United States and Russia would seek to “formalize” an agreement to lower strategic nuclear weapons levels.
At a briefing in Brussels a week later, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov added that the two sides had agreed to begin discussing “radical reductions of strategic offensive weapons” at the “expert level” in January.
According to Ivanov, the discussions will cover the depth of the reductions, their time frame, and the issues of verification and transparency. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov will initially lead the talks, which will reportedly begin January 26 in Washington.
President George W. Bush pledged November 13 to reduce deployed U.S. strategic nuclear forces to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads over the next 10 years. Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to try to “respond in kind,” and one month later, he indicated he had a range of 1,500-2,200 in mind.
Putin has repeatedly called for the negotiation of a formal arms control pact to codify the reductions. Bush initially appeared averse to formal negotiations, but recent statements by key Washington officials indicate that some sort of binding compact is possible. And senior U.S. officials have recently indicated that an agreement to extend START I and START II verification provisions to cover the planned reductions is under discussion with Moscow.
It remains unclear whether the Bolton-Mamedov talks will aim to negotiate an arms control treaty or whether they will try to agree on an informal arrangement. When asked about the possibility of a formal treaty, U.S. officials have continued to emphasize that all options remain under consideration. A Moscow summit between Bush and Putin is planned for late spring or early summer and could serve as the target date for the signing of an agreement.