MOSCOW: The United States and Russia were set to hold a second day of talks aimed at replacing a landmark Cold War-era nuclear disarmament treaty that expires in December, officials said.
The talks on a successor to 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.
Signed in 1991, START led to deep cuts in the US and Russian atomic arsenals and is seen as a cornerstone of strategic arms control, but the agreement expires in December.
Russian foreign ministry spokesman Igor Lyakin-Frolov said the first day of talks took place Tuesday and would continue Wednesday as planned. He made clear though there would be little public information about them.
“By agreement of both sides the talks will be discreet and they will only release an agreed joint statement at the end,” Lyakin-Frolov told AFP.
The two-day negotiating session marks the formal start of the process, though the two sides had several preliminary meetings to help break the ice.
Productive negotiations 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 closed-door talks are also a matter of prestige as they imply strategic parity with the United States as Moscow seeks to play a greater role on the world stage.
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 news agencies 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.
“We will take into consideration all factors involved in creating security, including missile defense and setting armaments in space,” Lavrov said.
Moscow has reacted angrily to US plans to place elements of its planned global missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Washington has tried to keep missile defence off the negotiating table at the START talks, saying that the shield is not directed against Russia and is instead meant to protect against Iran.
But that rationale was called into question in a report published Tuesday by the New York-based EastWest Institute, which said Iran was far away from having long-range missiles and that the shield would not work anyway.
Obama has pledged to continue with missile defence but only if it is cost-effective and proven to work. The project was strongly backed by his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Even aside from the missile defence issue, negotiators face a tough task as they seek to hash out a successor agreement to the hugely complex treaty before it expires on December 5.
Talks on START made little progress under Bush, and despite warming ties under Obama, many 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 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.