START talks may enter final straight as Clinton visits Moscow
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Moscow for talks on the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START. The signing has reportedly stalled over US plans to install anti-missile defense units in Eastern Europe.
Moscow says the reduction of offensive and defensive weapons should be linked in the new pact.
On Saturday, March 13, the two presidents discussed the final points of the agreement via telephone, saying they are ready to talk about a specific date for signing the new treaty.
Moscow and Washington have been at the negotiating table for almost a year, but despite the fact that the original treaty expired in December 2009, a new one has not yet been signed.
When the first START treaty was signed, then-First Lady Barbara Bush gifted a “Make Way for the Ducklings” statue to the Soviet Union. It was both a children's gift and a symbol of shared interests, as an identical sculpture is on display in Boston, Massachusetts.
Some are skeptical, however, saying that the prolonged negotiations are a sure sign that the two sides are not in sync, and that the signing a new treaty before a conference on nuclear nonproliferation in May 2010 is more optimistic than realistic.
“This situation is somewhat worrying. Many analysts are throwing about claims of an argument between Moscow and Washington, which is not good for us or our partners. But the fact that Secretary Clinton is here means two things: that both sides are working really hard on the treaty, but a full agreement has not yet been reached,” believes Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the US and Canada Institute.
Fred Weir, Moscow bureau chief for the Christian Science Monitor newspaper, also sees the lack of control over defensive weapons as a sticking point.
“The whole concept of strategic arms control has become unhinged since George W. Bush in his wisdom withdrew from the antiballistic treaty back in 2002. That left open this whole idea of defensive weapons,” Weir told RT.
Some say, however, that an agreement on the reduction itself has in fact been reached – and now, it is simply a matter of who gets to influence what.
“It is clearly a question of spheres of influence. It is clearly a question of who is seen to be holding their ground and not losing face, and I think this is why it has taken so long. The most likely date of signing the new treaty will probably be next month’s summit on non-nuclear proliferation in Washington, but even then we can’t be sure that both sides will have agreed all the details until then,” Dr. Adrian Pabst from the University of Kent says.
One of the stumbling blocks on the road to a new treaty is the US-led plans for anti-missile defense elements in Eastern Europe. The US insists it is necessary to neutralize the potential threat from Iran, but Russia sees the deployment as too close to home.
“The new START treaty is being developed in the absence of an agreement that regulates the development of anti-missile defense systems,” says Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
“And of course, Russia hailed President Obama's decision to abandon the global strategic anti-missile defense plans pushed forwards by his predecessor, George W. Bush, because that plan directly affected our national security and would have required immediate countermeasures.”
Spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Andrey Nesterenko said on Thursday that “the connection between offensive – including nuclear – and defensive arms is a truth that needs no proof. The unlimited deployment of ABM systems by any state or military-political bloc might undermine international efforts in the field of nuclear disarmament.”
There are many issues on Hillary Clinton's agenda during her Moscow visit, but finishing the START talks is certain to be one of her highest priorities.