U.S., Russia Continue Talks on START

Cole Harvey

U.S. and Russian delegations met in Moscow May 18-20 for the first full-fledged negotiations on a successor to START and said the talks went well.

A spokesman for the U.S. Department of State called the talks in Moscow "positive" but declined to provide any substantive details on the ongoing negotiations.

The Russian Foreign Ministry similarly described the atmosphere at the negotiations as "constructive and businesslike." During a May 20 press briefing in Moscow, ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said that the two sides "discussed a broad range of issues relating to the preparation of a future agreement."

START, which limits U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons and established extensive monitoring and verification procedures between the two countries, expires Dec. 5. At their April 1 meeting in London, President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev committed to negotiating a successor agreement by the end of the year.

Speaking to reporters May 20, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov listed some of the issues that Russia wants on the table. "The overall principle of the agreement must be equal security for the [two] sides," Lavrov said. "Undoubtedly this cannot be ensured without taking into account the situation in the sphere of missile defense, the placement of strike systems in outer space, [and] plans to develop non-nuclear-tipped warheads."

The three issues mentioned by Lavrov are familiar points of contention between the United States and Russia. Moscow has long objected to the Bush administration's plan to deploy missile interceptors in Poland and a high-powered radar in the Czech Republic and also opposes a Bush-era plan to develop long-range missiles with conventional warheads. Russia is a leading proponent of a treaty that would ban the use or deployment of weapons in space. The Bush administration rejected the possibility of such an agreement.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed Russian concerns about missile defense in a May 19 interview with a Russian television network, saying that the system "was never intended to be used against Russia." Clinton added, "We want to do research with the Russians. We want to look for sites that we can both agree on and maybe mutually construct and monitor. That has been the offer we've put on the table."

The two negotiating teams are scheduled to meet during the first week of June in Geneva and report on their progress to Obama and Medvedev in July.