Obama and Medvedev Talk About Arms Treaty
By PETER BAKER
Published: March 13, 2010
The New York Timeshttp://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/14/world ... t.html?hpw
WASHINGTON — President Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia moved closer to agreement Saturday on a long-stalled arms control treaty that would slash the active nuclear arsenals of both countries by more than one-quarter, officials from both countries said.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev spoke for 30 minutes by telephone to try to resolve remaining differences and set the stage for an accord before a nuclear summit meeting in Washington next month. In a statement, the Kremlin suggested that the two sides were ready to plan a signing ceremony for the treaty, which would replace the expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991, or Start.
“It is now possible to talk about specific dates for the submission of the draft Start treaty for signing by the heads of state,” the Kremlin statement said.
The White House was more cautious, with its spokesman, Mike Hammer, saying the leaders “had a good conversation” about “the progress and consensus reached” in Geneva negotiations. “The results of their talks are encouraging, and both leaders are committed to concluding an agreement soon,” Mr. Hammer added.
Other administration officials, who insisted on anonymity to discuss delicate negotiations, said the call was initiated by Mr. Medvedev to confirm agreement on a set of issues in the treaty reached by negotiators in Geneva in recent days. They said the two sides must now hash out technical issues related to monitoring and verification, but they sounded more optimistic than they have in weeks.
“We’re not ready to declare victory,” one official said, “but we think it was a good step forward.”Asked about missile defense
, an issue that has deeply divided the two sides, another official said, “We’re getting close to an understanding on that point.”
The two countries have been haggling over the new treaty for nearly a year and missed their self-imposed deadline of finishing by the time the original Start accord expired in December. While most of the substance has been settled for months, missile defense and verification have proved hard to resolve.Moscow has long opposed American plans to build a missile defense system in Europe and remains suspicious even of Mr. Obama’s reconfigured version
, but the American side has refused to agree to any limitations in the treaty. To bridge the differences, the two sides have been drafting nonbinding language for the preamble to the treaty recognizing Russian interests in addressing defensive weapons as well as offensive weapons without actually binding the United States.
The dragged-out negotiations have frustrated Obama administration officials who, when they took office 14 months ago, had hoped to agree relatively quickly to a generally straightforward replacement for Start as a way to begin improving Russian-American relations. With the agreement fostering new trust, they hoped they could then move on to harder issues.
Instead, it has been a on-and-off process that always seems close to finale without getting there. At one point last month, the American side thought it was close enough to a deal that a phone call was set up between Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev. But the Russian leader wound up raising issues that the Americans had thought were settled and Mr. Obama hung up the phone frustrated that there was more work to be done than he had anticipated
, American officials have said.
Given that, White House officials were wary of setting up another call with Mr. Medvedev until they were confident the two were genuinely closer to a deal. “A very good week in Geneva,” as one official termed it, encouraged them that perhaps Moscow has made a decision to bring the talks to a close. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is heading to Moscow in the coming week.
Both sides have incentives to finish and sign a treaty by the time Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev join other world leaders at a summit meeting on nuclear nonproliferation in Washington in April. But the White House has been careful not to call that a deadline, saying it would not rush just to have it done by then.
The new treaty, if it is signed and ratified by the Senate and the Russian Parliament, would require each side to reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads to roughly 1,600, down from 2,200
, American officials have said. It would also force each side to reduce its strategic bombers and land- and sea-based missiles to below 800, down from the old limit of 1,600.