US and Russian negotiators met in Geneva on Tuesday to discuss new cuts in nuclear weapons arsenals, their last scheduled round of talks before a summit between their presidents next month.
The third round of talks on replacing the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) was due to last two days. “The negotiations restarted at 11.00 am (0900 GMT) today at the Russian mission,” a Russian diplomat said. Negotiators also met on Monday, Russian and US diplomatic sources added.
The attempt to strike a new deal to succeed START, which expires on December 5, symbolises a thaw in US-Russian relations in recent months, although the Russians are insisting on concessions on the US missile defence shield.
The negotiations are meant to prepare the ground for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s landmark meeting with US counterpart Barack Obama in Moscow on July 6.
“Restarting the US-Russian nuclear arms control process will help repair frayed US-Russian relations, open the way for dramatic reductions in the overall number of nuclear weapons, and improve global cooperation to help meet other nuclear threats,” said US disarmament analyst Daryl Kimball.
The stockpiles of several thousand nuclear warheads were the obvious place to start to defuse tensions, while allowing Obama to gain bipartisan support in Congress, he added in a briefing note.
“Current US and Russian nuclear capabilities are out of step with present day realities,” the executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association said.
The senior US negotiator, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control Rose Gottemoeller, has described the series of talks as “productive”, as both sides aim for deeper cuts in their strategic arsenals than those achieved by START.
But Medvedev last week underlined that reductions could only come about if the United States addressed Moscow’s “concerns” about deployment of the missile defence shield in eastern Europe.
“In every case, the issue of the connection between strategic offensive and defensive weapons must be definitely fixed in any agreement,” he added.
Kimball underlined Obama’s doubts about the as-yet unproven missile defence scheme and its cost, as well as US attempts this year to draw Russia into cooperation on missile defence.
Andrew Wilson, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said Washington also needed to trade Russian support on other geopolitical issues, such as Iran and North Korea.
“There is a very strong incentive on both sides to find an agreement,” he added.
After a decade of negotiation at the tail-end of the Cold War, START secured the verifiable destruction of Russian and US offensive weaponry, including a complex set of cuts in nuclear warhead numbers.
Moscow and Washington subsequently agreed in 2002 on the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), also known as the Moscow Treaty, with deeper reductions in the deployment of strategic warheads to 1,700-2,200 each by 2012.
However, SORT only sought the withdrawal of weapons, not their outright destruction, and had no verification provisions, unlike START.
Kimball predicted a verifiable strategic arms control “bridging agreement” with limits below the threshold set in the 2002 deal.
“It is possible that a framework for the new agreement may be reached in time for the Moscow summit in July; even so the final agreement will not be concluded until the fall,” he predicted.