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former IAEA Director-General

Russia, U.S. Seek START Successor by Year End
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Cole Harvey

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Geneva March 6 to discuss a follow-on agreement to START and U.S.-Russian relations generally. In a press conference following their meeting, Clinton expressed the two governments' intention to have an agreement in place by the end of 2009. Separately, Lavrov issued a broad outline of the Russian position on the START successor in a March 7 address to the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament (CD).

Quoting a letter from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to the CD, Lavrov stated that any new strategic arms reduction agreement should be legally binding, "forward-looking," and should limit warheads and delivery vehicles-ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers. The 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which expires at the end of 2012, places limits on "operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads" but does not require either country to limit delivery vehicles. Reducing the number of delivery vehicles is a means of ensuring that a country does not posses what Lavrov called "nuclear upload potential," an issue the Russian government considers essential to the disarmament process.

Lavrov also underscored Russian opposition to the planned European site of the U.S. missile defense system, saying that "real progress in nuclear disarmament cannot be achieved in a situation when unilateral efforts to develop strategic ABM [anti-ballistic missile] systems undermine" the balance between offensive and defensive weaponry.

In February, President Barack Obama dispatched a letter to Medvedev on the subject of missile defense. Although not proposing an outright deal, the letter intimated that if Russian diplomatic pressure can diminish the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, the need for a European missile defense site would be less pressing. Medvedev welcomed the letter as a signal that "our U.S. partners are ready to discuss the issue."

Additionally, Lavrov laid out several positions that Moscow considers crucial to disarmament generally and that may impact the negotiations for the START successor. A "sustainable and consistent disarmament process," Lavrov asserted, requires that states do not deploy "strategic offensive weapons equipped with conventional warheads." The Bush administration actively pursued such a capability, which it referred to as Prompt Global Strike, and requested $117 million in fiscal year 2009 to research land-based and submarine-based long-range conventional missiles. Congress approved $124 million for the program.

Clinton and Lavrov agreed to develop "a very specific set of objectives and responsibilities," in Clinton's words, which they will present to Obama and Medvedev in advance of their April 1 meeting in London.

Obama has also begun to put together the team of officials who will be responsible for negotiating a new agreement. On March 17, Obama announced his nomination of Rose Gottemoeller to be assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance. Gottemoeller, formerly the director of the Moscow Center of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is expected to be the lead negotiator on the START successor. Obama will nominate Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) to be undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. She will be the highest-ranking Department of State official with specific responsibility for arms control. In a March 18 press release announcing her intention to accept the post, Tauscher described nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation as her "passion." Gottemoeller and Tauscher will need to be confirmed by the Senate.

The Obama administration has not articulated a comprehensive set of negotiating priorities of the kind issued by Lavrov in Geneva. Nonetheless, Clinton noted in her written testimony before the Senate that the United States would seek "deep, verifiable reductions in all U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons" and declared that "essential monitoring and verification procedures" included in START must not be allowed to lapse.

Gottemoeller recently co-authored an article in Arms Control Today in which she expressed support for an "enhanced" version of SORT, which would contain explicit warhead counting rules and verification procedures. (See ACT, July/August 2008.)

Clinton and Lavrov sounded an optimistic note after their meeting. Lavrov expressed confidence that the two countries will "arrive at a common view both in the context of strategic offensive weapons and the missile defenses," while Clinton described the negotiation of a new strategic arms agreement as the two governments' "highest priority."

Posted: March 31, 2009