ROAR: Russia-US reset “needs urgent resetting”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Moscow and Washington should sign a new START treaty by April 12, otherwise it will be “a complete fiasco,” analysts warn.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Moscow on March 18-19 for talks on the new nuclear arms reduction treaty. She will also attend a meeting of the quartet of international mediators in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will discuss issues concerning efforts in the direction of non-proliferation in the context of the April 12-13 nuclear security global summit in Washington. If the new strategic arms reduction treaty is not signed by that date, it will seriously hamper the reset of Russian-US relations, many observers warn.

“Moscow and Washington have offered different predictions regarding the perspectives of the signing of the new treaty on strategic offensive arms reduction,” Kommersant daily said. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently “sounded optimistic, saying that the treaty may be signed in the next two or three weeks” the paper said.

However, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said “no deadlines should be set for the signing,” and, if needed, it would be approved after the April 12-13 nuclear security conference in Washington, the daily noted.

“Unofficially, negotiators say that almost everything has been agreed in the document except the link between offensive and defensive weapons, or missile defense,” Kommersant said.

Russia and the US seemed to have agreed that the link should be reflected in the treaty, but Washington then backed out, a source close to the Geneva talks told the daily.

Moscow wants this link to be binding, the source said, adding that it may be reflected in an attachment to the document.

Another source of the paper in the Russian Foreign Ministry described as “inappropriate” the agreement between the US and Romania that had been announced recently. In February, Romania and Bulgaria declared their intention to participate in the US missile defense program and confirmed that the talks are already underway.

Moscow and Washington agreed on the treaty’s clause regarding the exchange of telemetric data, and Russia will provide its partner with information about only a limited number of missile launches, the paper said. However, the formal linkage between strategic arms cuts and missile shield remains a sticking point.

If the link between defensive and offensive arm is fixed in the treaty, it may accelerate the ratification of the document when it is signed by the presidents. “The more detailed is this link, the easier it will pass the State Duma,” Konstantin Kosachev, head of the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, told Kommersant.

Otherwise, the document will not be ratified by the State Duma, Kosachev said. But the problem is that the US lawmakers are not likely to approve the treaty containing this link either, analysts believe.

Another round of talks on the START treaty that began on March 9 in Geneva can be considered “decisive”, observer Vadim Yelfimov said. “Many observers hastened to call it the last round, probably meaning that the document is almost ready,” he said in a commentary for Regnum news agency.

But haste may be “dangerous” in the issues concerning national security, the observer noted, adding that Russia should demonstrate that “it will never make unilateral concessions.” “A realistic treaty” should not proceed from the fact that the US is abandoning its missile program immediately, but it “should create conditions for that,” the observer said.

“The linkage between the START treaty and dynamics of missile defense is not only logical in military terms, it is necessary from a political point of view, because a normal cooperation between the two super powers will always be on the agenda,” Yelfimov noted.

“Moscow has slowed down talks on the START treaty to demonstrate its discontent about Washington’s plans to deploy missile shield,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily said. Analysts agree that this has become the main stumbling block.

Russia is displeased with Washington, which has taken a unilateral decision “to deploy a tactical missile system in southern Europe without consulting Russia,” Aleksey Arbatov, director of the Center for International Security at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences', told the daily.

The plans of deploying missile shield in Romania and Bulgaria “have been probably adopted outside the framework of the Russian-US mechanism of mutual assessments of threats, which should have already started working, the analyst said. At the same time, Arbatov has no doubts that the treaty on arms cuts “will be signed anyway.”

Moscow possibly expects a number of political steps from Washington, the daily said. The US should confirm that “it will not act unilaterally” and is ready to assess threats jointly with Moscow, the paper added.

Russia also wants its partners to take the decisions on deploying a missile shield based on reports made by both parties assessing the threats, the paper said. Moscow also expects the US to be ready to discuss the issues of missile defense during talks in the future, after the signing of the new START treaty, it added.

The pact itself should be signed by 12 April when the nuclear security summit starts, Arbatov believes. “Otherwise, it would be a complete fiasco,” he said, adding that in this case it would be “senseless to speak about any nuclear disarmament or resetting relations.”

Hillary Clinton will arrive in Moscow next week “to reset relations that have already been reset,” Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily said. The talks will be difficult as the Russian-US relations “have already started to stumble again,” the paper predicts.

The majority of analysts described the first meetings between President Barack Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev as “encouraging,” the daily said. It seemed that Washington “was ready for a serious breakthrough, but everything proved to be more modest,” it noted.

“Now there is no doubt that the reset itself needs urgent resetting,” the daily stressed. In particular, “the parties repeatedly said in autumn last year that the text of the new arms reduction treaty would be agreed on by December 5, 2009 when the START 1 expired,” it said.

“But only by January this year was the treaty 98 per cent ready,” the daily said, adding that the countries cannot accomplish “the remaining two per cent.” Moscow had to react to the unilateral activities of the US in the missile defense sphere at the very least because the presidents of Russia and the US agreed “to mutually assess threats first, and then decide where and when to place missiles,” the paper noted.

Sergey Borisov, RT