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High-stakes nuclear arms talks begin

Latest update : 2009-05-19

The United States and Russia have begun talks aimed at replacing the Cold War-era Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) as part of US President Barack Obama's efforts to "reset" strained relations with Moscow.

AFP - The United States and Russia on Tuesday began the first round of talks aimed at replacing a landmark Cold War-era nuclear disarmament treaty that expires in December.
The talks on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) are a central part of US President Barack Obama's desire to "reset" strained ties with Russia and their result could have far-reaching implications for global security.
They hark back to Cold War days where US and Soviet officials met for tense negotiations on reducing their vast atomic arsenals and lowering the chances of nuclear Armageddon.
A successful result would boost Obama's vision of a world free of atomic weapons and help set the stage for a fence-mending summit in July when Obama travels to Moscow to meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
For Russia, the talks are also a matter of prestige as they imply strategic "parity" with the United States, a matter diplomats say is of huge importance to Moscow as it seeks to play a larger role on the world stage.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hailed a "new momentum for disarmament" and offered his best wishes for the talks.
"Let me extend my best wishes for the negotiations between the two countries taking place in Moscow," the United Nations chief told a disarmament conference in Geneva.
A source in the Russian foreign ministry told AFP that the talks began Tuesday as planned, without giving further details. Interfax news agency said the two sides had decided to refrain from public comment on the talks.
The two-day negotiating session marks the formal start of the process though the two sides have a series of preliminary meetings to help break the ice.
Ahead of the talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he hoped they would be "fruitful" but also cautioned that they would be linked to controversial US missile defence plans in Eastern Europe.
"We believe that the START treaty cannot be discussed in a vacuum," Lavrov was quoted as saying by Interfax late Monday.
"It must reflect the issue of global security, which certainly includes Russia's, and this implies that we must sort out the situation on missile defence," Lavrov added.
Moscow has reacted angrily to US plans to place missile defence facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Washington however says the plans do not threaten Russia and has tried to keep them off the negotiating table at the START talks.
The Russian daily newspaper Vremya Novostei wrote Tuesday that it would be "practically impossible" to reach a deal on START unless Obama reconsidered the missile shield, that was strongly backed by former US president George W. Bush.
AFP - Even aside from the missile defence issue, negotiators face a tough task as they seek to find a successor agreement to START, a hugely complex treaty with numerous arcane technical details, before it expires on December 5.
Talks on a START replacement made little progress under Bush, and despite the warming in ties under Obama, many of the same stumbling blocks remain. 
For instance, Moscow wants a broad treaty that limits both nuclear warheads and their carriers, such as missiles and bombers, while Washington prefers to focus only on "operationally deployed" warheads that are ready for launch.
The US negotiating team in Moscow is led by Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller while the Russian team is headed by Anatoly Antonov, head of the foreign ministry department for security and disarmament.
Signed in 1991, START called for the US strategic nuclear arsenal to be cut from 9,986 warheads to 8,556 and the Soviet arsenal from 10,237 to 6,449 and implemented a range of verification procedures to ensure compliance.
The agreement led to massive arms reductions on both sides and is seen as a cornerstone of strategic arms control.

Date created : 2009-05-19