U.S. and Russia Vow Further Cuts In Nuclear Arms

By Peter Baker and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The United States and Russia vowed yesterday to keep reducing nuclear warhead stockpiles to "the lowest possible level" even after a key treaty expires in 2009, and they agreed to work together to help other countries develop civilian nuclear power without spreading weapons.

Coming the day after President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Kennebunkport, Maine, the announcements were intended to show that the two countries continue to collaborate, despite strained relations. But critics said the statements raised as many questions as they answered and underlined disagreements over the future of arms control.

The statement issued by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, pledged the two nations to cutting their nuclear arsenals "to the lowest possible level consistent with their national security requirements and alliance commitments," once the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, expires in 2009. The two sides will embark on talks designed to ensure "continuity and predictability."

The commitment, though, glossed over the heart of their dispute over what to do when START ends. Russia wants a new, legally binding treaty; the Bush administration does not. Without such a treaty obligation, the inspection process created by the 1991 pact would cease, a prospect that alarms arms-control advocates in both countries. It would also remove most limits on the two nuclear arsenals.

Joseph Cirincione, a nuclear nonproliferation specialist at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, said the Bush administration "does not want foreign nationals having any inspection rights over our nuclear forces. Arms-control advocates and many in Congress are appalled at the administration's position, because it's in the U.S. interest to verify the massive Russian nuclear arsenal. It doesn't make any sense to let tried and tested measures expire."

Both countries have met the START goal of trimming their arsenals to 6,000 warheads. The 2002 Moscow Treaty commits each to further slashing its stockpile to 1,700 to 2,200 by 2012, but the pact includes no inspection process beyond START.

Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, called yesterday's statement "extremely disappointing." Bush's plans to station missile defense facilities in Eastern Europe, combined with the administration's resistance to extending START, have fueled Russian anxiety, he said. "The Cold War ideological rivalry may be over, but the two countries have failed to eliminate the weapons left over from that conflict. And the weapons continue to create a certain amount of anxiety and mistrust," he said.

U.S. and Russian officials also agreed yesterday to jointly aid nations seeking nuclear energy by providing safe reactors and infrastructure, financial support and management of spent fuel, while safeguarding such efforts against the risk of developing nuclear weapons. "It's about providing an alternative path to energy development that becomes a win for energy security, a win for environment security and a win for nonproliferation," said Robert G. Joseph, U.S. special envoy for nuclear nonproliferation.

But the two sides did not sign a new agreement for civilian nuclear cooperation between themselves. The agreement, negotiated over the past year, was initialed on Friday in Moscow, but a U.S. official said it could take months for review before it is signed. Such an agreement could prove controversial in Congress, which has the power to block it.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company