The eighth round of Russian-US consultations begins in Geneva.

The eighth and hopefully last round of START consultations begins in Geneva, Switzerland, later today. Hoping to sign a START follow-on treaty before the end of the year, Washington and Moscow are predictably in a hurry. Leaks from Barack Obama’s Administration indicate that the United States is prepared to compromise with Russia on two key matters.

The Washington Post reported a breakthrough at the US-Russian talks over the new START agreement possible right this week. Moscow is hopeful too. “We have every chance to reach an agreement on the new treaty, determine new thresholds and control measures, and sign a legally binding document by the end of the year,” President Dmitry Medvedev told the German media. Speaking of the eighth round of the consultations, Andrei Nesterenko of the Foreign Ministry said that it might be the last and that the treaty would be signed as scheduled.

These hopes stemmed from National Security Advisor General James Jones’ visit to Russia. Jones came with new START proposals. To be more exact, he suggested a “reasonable” compromise on the permitted number of delivery means (something that had been eluding Moscow and Washington). Earlier this year, Medvedev and Obama had agreed on between 500 and 1,100 delivery means i.e. strategic bombers and land and naval ICBMs in each signatory’s arsenal. The Washington Post suggested 700 as the “reasonable” compromise and stated that American negotiators might accept Russia’s demand to count strategic missiles with conventional warheads as well.

Institute of the USA and Canada Director Sergei Rogov called The Washington Post report a deliberate leak playing into the hands of the US Administration. “The way I see it, the Americans know that they will have to compromise. Judging by the report, the United States might agree to 700 delivery means instead of 1,100. Russia in the meanwhile insists on 500. With the Americans agreeing to restrict delivery means to 700 items, I’d say a compromise will be within reach,” Rogov said.

With 1,100 delivery means in service, the Americans will be able to make use of the 3,000 nuclear warheads they have stored. This ability to rebuild the nuclear potential worries Russia immensely. According to Rogov, even 700 delivery means will enable the United States to build up its nuclear potential to a considerable size. The expert said that the Americans might probably agree as well to count the conventional warheads the Pentagon intended to install on strategic missiles. They themselves will expect a concession from Russia too. The Americans will probably want the four Ohio-class submarines out of the treaty. Once the platforms carrying Trident ballistic missiles, they were converted to guided missiles. The START I treaty regarded them as carriers of nuclear weapons.

“A deal will probably be made – the Americans agree to count conventional warheads on their strategic missiles and we agree to discount their submarines carrying guided missiles,” Rogov said. He added that discord over other matters was serious enough to arrant attention. For example, Russia is convinced that the American inspectors attached to the factory in Votkinsk should go home on December 5, the date when the START I expires. The Americans of course would dearly like to leave their inspectors in place.

Richard Lugar drew a bill permitting Obama to retain the START I control procedures in the event Washington and Moscow failed to sign the follow-on treaty. The Americans do not want to leave Votkinsk indeed. Lugar’s bill is a contingency plan both countries will put into motion if the situation warrants it i.e. if no follow-on treaty is signed this December.

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