RESETTING START

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PRESIDENTS DMITRY MEDVEDEV AND BARACK OBAMA AGREED TO SIGN A NEW STRATEGIC ARMS REDUCTION TREATY THIS YEAR

Two declarations were made after a meeting between Russian and US presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama in London.


President Dmitry Medvedev met with Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd, British PM Gordon Brown, and PRC Chairman Hu Jintao in London, Great Britain. All talks were centered around reorganization of the global financial system and anti-crisis cooperation between Russia and these countries.

Two declarations were made in the wake of the London talks: one on international affairs in general, the other on strategic arms reduction. In the former, Russia and the United States acknowledged differences in estimate of the future missile shield in East Europe and evaluation of the war in South Ossetia last year (the document diplomatically omitted the name of the region). They nevertheless pledged to seek new forms of cooperation in Afghanistan, have Iran see the light in the matter of international community’s trust in its nuclear program, settle the issue of WTO membership for Russia, and continue the dialogue over European security. (Along with everything else, Russia and the United States warned the DPRK against the intended missile launch.)

In the latter declaration, Russia and the United States proclaimed beginning of the talks over a new treaty to replace the current one expiring in December 2009. Experts have until July to work out proposals for their presidents. US President Barack Obama will visit Moscow then. “We have many more positions that unite us than those that divide our countries,” Medvedev was quoted as saying.

The future treaty will specify control mechanisms and permit the signatories to retain fewer warheads than the 1,700-2,200 allowed by the 2002 Russian-US Treaty on the Reduction of Strategic Offensive Potentials or SOP Treaty often criticized for being too vague. Judging by the data the US Department of State posted on its web site yesterday, the United States had 5,576 warheads on 1,198 delivery means and Russia 3,909 on 814 on January 1, 2009. Yevgeny Myasnikov of the Center for Disarmament Studies said the SOP Treaty was unforgivably vague on definition of warheads so that there was really no saying what it meant or when the signatories were supposed to reach the permitted ceilings (1,700 to 2,200). Pyotr Topychkanov of the Moscow Carnegie Center meanwhile suggested that reaching an agreement with the United States would be a chore. “The Americans also have high-precision weapons, space weapons, and ABM to tackle strategic missions,” he said. “As for Russia, strategic nuclear forces are essentially all it has.”

Topychkanov assumed that the new START treaty would permit the signatories something in the vicinity of 2,000 warheads. The New York Times quoted its sources in US and Russian delegations as putting the ceiling at 1,500 warheads.

Myasnikov complimented the declaration made in London on proclaiming that the future treaty would be about arms reduction. “Meaning that the United States is prepared to discuss reduction of warheads and delivery means which Russia has insisted on,” he said. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov all but confirmed it too. He said that the agreement “meant it all.” “On the other hand, the London declaration does not mention irrevocability of reduction and that cannot help making Russia wary. I’m talking the warheads that were never dismantled but were stored instead,” Myasnikov said. The expert was quite skeptical of the bold promise to have the treaty signed before the end of the year because the United States had never even formulated its stand on the matter. Also importantly, the London declaration never acknowledged the ABM problem which was probably an indication that Washington was determined not to combine these two issues despite Moscow’s insistence.

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