US President Obama is resolved to put nuclear disarmament processes into motion.

Official Washington is of the mind to activate nuclear disarmament talks with Moscow. For starters, the new US Administration intends to initiate negotiations over a document to replace the START-I treaty expiring on December 5.

The Times was the first to report willingness of the US Administration to activate US-Russian nuclear disarmament talks. The British newspaper quoted an anonymous but knowledgeable source in the US Administration as saying that Barack Obama was after a dramatic (80%) reduction of American and Russian nuclear potentials to 1,000 nuclear warheads per arsenal. Along with everything else, the White House is said to be willing to involve Russia in the process of nuclear disarmament based on legally binding documents. The first of them is supposed to replace the START-I treaty expiring this year.

“We take all these reports as a positive signal from the United States. The new US Administration in Washington seems to be aiming at constructive work on the nuclear disarmament problem,” a source in the Russian Foreign Ministry commented. “In any event, it’s best to treat all American offers with caution. Strategic interests of Russia and its security concerns must be allowed for and taken into account.” The diplomat added that all promising signals from Obama’s Administration notwithstanding, Washington had to come up with specific proposals yet.

When the US Senate was considering Hillary Clinton for the US State Secretary last month, she said work on a document replacing the START-I would be one of her high priorities. Obama himself kept repeating before his inauguration that the United States would cooperate and interact with the Russians “wherever possible” and calling nonproliferation an instrumental problem.

Democrats launched preparations for a revision of George W. Bush’s policy in the sphere of the nuclear dialogue with Moscow even before Obama’s election. When the presidential campaign was under way, the Democratic Party contracted several prominent think-tanks to formulate recommendations for the future US-Russian talks on a new bilateral treaty in the sphere of nuclear security. Elected the president, Obama offered jobs within his Administration to lots of experts from these structures. “The White House will establish a special structure to handle nuclear security and strategic arms reduction. As opposed to nonproliferation problems, that is,” a source said. “Moreover, it is the US Department of State and not the Pentagon that will be put in charge.”

It is understood in Washington that strategic arms reduction talks and establishment of control and verification mechanisms may take up all of Obama’s first term of office. Insiders say that the document that will hopefully replace the START-I is supposed to permit every signature only about 1,500 nuclear warheads. It will be definitely a step forward because the Russian-US Treaty on the Reduction of Strategic Offensive Potentials signed in Moscow in May 2002 stands for reduction of every signatory’s nuclear arsenals to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads. With that accomplished, Washington will initiate work on a new comprehensive treaty involving the third countries and permitting the United States and Russia only about 1,000 nuclear warheads each.

Before addressing all these ambitious tasks, however, Russia and the United States will have to solve some serious problems. Reduction of delivery means and not just of warheads is one of them. Russia has been insisting on it for some time already. There is also the matter of the non-deployed warheads which official Washington with Bush in the Oval Study wouldn’t even consider, much less discuss. Last but not the least, Moscow is greatly upset by American high-precision conventional weapons which it would also like to be limited by the future treaty. Sources close to the US Department of State meanwhile claim that the new US Administration is prepared to take Russia’s concerns with more seriousness and understanding than the previous one did. They say that Washington wouldn’t mind a dialogue on all these matters. At the same time, the United States just might bring up the subject of tactical nuclear weapons restriction.

Washington’s plans to install elements of the ballistic missile defense system in East Europe remain a major hurdle on the way to a new document replacing the START-I. “In theory, it is possible for us to sign a new treaty instead of the START-I in the time available,” Russian Representative to NATO Dmitry Rogozin admitted. “And yet, reduction of offensive potentials should be accompanied with guarantees of non-improvement of defense systems and first and foremost of the missile shield.”

Judging by the first statements made by Obama’s Administration, it harbors grave doubts concerning feasibility of the project that was an obsession with George W. Bush and his team. Undersecretaries of Defense William J. Lynn and Michelle Flournoy plainly told the senatorial Defense Committee in January that the necessity to pour $4 billion into construction of a radar in the Czech Republic and missile base in Poland in the midst of a global crisis was extremely questionable. Sources close to the new US Administration do not think that Obama will go so far as to void the treaties already signed with Prague and Warsaw, but putting them on hold is what he certainly can do and probably will.

Will Moscow be content with it? “Chances to reach an agreement do exist. Obama has everything he needs to extricate himself without losing face and do so in a manner that will take everyone else’s interests into account,” Rogozin said. As a matter of fact, an opportunity to discuss it all will present itself soon. Obama and Medvedev will meet at the G20 summit in London this April. What information is available to Nezavisimaya Gazeta indicates that the US president may even come to Moscow after that. The Foreign Ministry meanwhile reports that Clinton is expected to meet with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in March to discuss the forthcoming top-level talks between the heads of states.

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