Russia Says U.S. Seeks Weaker Treaty

By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, December 20, 2008

MOSCOW, Dec. 19 -- Russia accused the United States on Friday of trying to weaken a landmark nuclear arms-control pact set to expire next year by removing limits on long-range missiles and bombers and demanding instead that a new agreement cover only warheads.

But a senior Republican senator, Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), said after meetings with Russian officials here that a new treaty remained "doable" and urged the incoming Obama administration to quickly begin negotiations.

Commenting on a final round of arms control talks held last week with the Bush administration, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the U.S. position on what weapons should be covered was the "main problem" holding up progress on an extension or replacement of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as START I, which is scheduled to expire Dec. 5, 2009.

The Bush administration has insisted on restricting only the number of "operationally deployed" nuclear warheads in any new agreement and not numbers of missiles and bombers as in the original START pact. Ryabkov said that would "open a loophole for secretly building up nuclear arms."

"Implementation of the approach proposed by the U.S. side could strip our bilateral relations of a key element -- predictability in arms control -- and seriously destabilize the strategic situation," he said in a written statement.

The Bush administration has favored a more limited treaty in part because that would allow the Pentagon to pursue its goal of developing long-range missiles carrying conventional or nonnuclear warheads that could quickly hit targets around the world, a capability described as "prompt global strike."

Ryabkov acknowledged the U.S. desire for such arms to combat terrorism and "rogue states" but said they should be counted in any new treaty because countries cannot know whether missiles are carrying conventional or nuclear warheads when launched. That premise was the basis of the START agreement, he argued.

Signed by President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, START cut the number of nuclear warheads deployed by the United States and the Soviet Union by imposing a limit of 1,600 intercontinental missiles, submarine-launched missiles and heavy bombers for each country and requiring the destruction of excess "delivery vehicles."

Each side's missiles and bombers were to carry no more than 6,000 nuclear warheads as counted by a set of complex rules. Though both countries have already trimmed their arsenals below that ceiling, the START agreement also established an extensive verification regime that is being used to monitor further cuts mandated by the Moscow Treaty of 2002.

President George W. Bush and then-President Vladimir Putin pledged in that agreement to reduce their active strategic arsenals to 1,700 to 2,200 warheads each by 2012. Critics say there will be no way to monitor progress toward that goal if START -- with its verification provisions -- is allowed to expire.

Both the Bush administration and the Kremlin have proposed replacing START instead of simply extending it, but talks have stalled. Russia is seeking another legally binding pact, while the United States has favored informal transparency measures similar to those in the Moscow Treaty. Discussions have also been complicated by U.S. plans to build a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, which Moscow opposes.

Lugar, who will be the most senior Republican in the Senate next year and has devoted much of his career to arms control, said after meetings with the Russian foreign minister and other officials that the Kremlin appeared eager to work with the Obama administration to replace START before it expires.

"I believe it's something that is very important and something that is doable, and that could be a mark of achievement for the new administration as well as of cooperation with our Russian friends," he said.

He emphasized the importance and urgency of extending the START agreement's intrusive verification procedures, saying he remained skeptical of the Moscow Treaty's more informal approach. A system of benchmarks and inspections would build confidence in Washington and Moscow, and also in other countries, he said.

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