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18 May, 2009 15:15

Russia-US START talks underway

Russia and the United States are due to begin talks on Tuesday on a new treaty to reduce the number of nuclear weapons.

A source in the Russian Foreign Ministry told Interfax news agency that it will be “the first substantive discussion” of a new treaty and not “simply an exchange of opinions.”

Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller is on her way to Moscow as head of a US delegation preparing the way for President Obama's visit in July.

The Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty, or START 1, which was signed in 1991 currently places a limit of 6,000 warheads on each side. It is due to expire in December.

The Russian and American presidents agreed during their first meeting in London in April upon an immediate start to new START talks. Experts believe that the future agreement will lead to larger arms reductions.

Both Russia and the US have to move fast to establish a new agreement, since the old one is due to expire in just six months’ time. The talks were not held before since the US unilaterally withdrew from the anti ballistic missile treaty in 2001.

“I think what we are going to see in this new agreement is lower ceilings on the number of warheads that may be deployed on strategic delivery systems – the missiles and the bombers – and we are going to see lower ceilings on the number of missiles and bombers that may be deployed by each side,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of Arms Control Association. “I think they will be looking for some revised rules and numbers on these issues in the new agreement.”

There is speculation that Russia is planning to bind the strategic arms’ reduction program with anti ballistic missile agreements.

However, experts say that in this case there will hardly be a consensus between the two countries, since Russia’s position on the subject is clear: the country is concerned that US defense plans in Eastern Europe may threaten its security.

“As far as I understand Russia’s position, it is not going to bind the nuclear reduction treaty with the anti missile defense problem in Eastern Europe, although these issues are linked. The reasons for it are quite clear: results in both anti missile defense and nuclear reduction problems in one treaty will take months or even years and we simply do not have that time,” Anton Khlopkov, the Director of the Centre for Energy and Security Studies explained.

Joseph Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, and a personal friend of U.S. negotiator, Rose Gottemoeller, says he hopes both countries will be nuclear-weapon free within a couple of decades.

“Both sides recognize that nuclear weapons are more likely to be used against them in military operations. I see this process extending over time, though. Probably another 20-25 years and in each stage it will go to lower and lower numbers. I think it is likely that we will see in the very near future, in the next couple of years, a treaty where both the US and Russia reduce to about 1,000 warheads each. Then down to hundreds and that is when it really gets tough. I think it will take a decade or more to go from hundreds of nuclear weapons down to a regime where we could very favorably get to zero”.