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20 May, 2009 21:16

The new START begins

Russia and the U.S. talks over a new deal to cut their atomic arsenals have ended and seem a success, but Moscow says there'll be little progress unless Washington reconsiders its plans for missile defence in Europe.

After years of failed talks between Moscow and Washington on a new arms reduction treaty, a US delegation finally came to town to talk business.

Despite the hush-hush nature of the 2-day meeting, some information did find its way out from behind the closed doors.

Both sides are apparently very pleased with the progress they've made, and the discussions are set to continue in a few weeks time.

Aleksandr Pikaev, an expert from the Committee of Scientists for Global Security, explains the shroud of secrecy over the negotiations.

“This is a long-standing diplomatic tradition. All diplomatic negotiations are being held in secrecy, behind closed doors, especially the negotiations of such a sensitive and complicated matter like strategic arms reduction talks. Moreover, this first round is particularly sensitive because the sides are delivering their initial negotiating positions,” Pikaev said.

The two sides do not have a lot of time on their hands. START-1 expires on December 5th of this year.

“There is too little time to complete talks within six months, therefore it is very likely that we will not have a new agreement by the expiration of START-1. It is not realistic to expect that START-1 will be prolonged automatically,” added Pikaev.

“If we are not ready to sign a new treaty by December 5 this year,” said Aleksey Arbatov, the director of International Security Center, “then we will get into this vacuum and first of all we will not know what the forces of the other side are doing, how they are modernized and so on”.

The obvious problems with not having an arms reduction treaty are not the only concerns.

There is another potential problem in the works. According to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Russia wants the new START treaty to regulate the US-led anti-missile defence plans for Eastern Europe.

Lavrov recalled, “Security definitely cannot be achieved without taking into the account the situation with missile defence and other aspects, such as the possible deployment of weapons in space and plans to produce warheads not armed with nuclear weapons. I hope all these factors will be fully accounted for.”

Anti-ballistic missile defence, as it's come to be known, is something Washington is keen on, but Moscow vehemently opposes – with no compromise in sight.

A lot of potential stumbling blocks are on the road to an agreement. All involved hope the end will be reached before December 5th, but nobody knows how long these new treaty negotiations will take before materializing from discussion topics into reality.

Meanwhile, Russia and the U.S. agreed to continue talks in early June in Geneva on how to cut their nuclear arsenals.