US, Russia uphold 'spirit' of expiring nuclear pact

MOSCOW, Alexander Osipovich- Washington and Moscow pledged Friday to uphold the "spirit" of the START nuclear arms treaty and to seek a new agreement as soon as possible, hours before the landmark 1991 pact was to expire.
US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev said in a joint statement they would keep pushing for nuclear disarmament, despite failing to cut a last-minute deal by the treaty's December 5 expiration date.

President Dmitry Medvedev and President Barack Obama
President Dmitry Medvedev and President Barack Obama
"We express our commitment, as a matter of principle, to continue to work together in the spirit of the START Treaty following its expiration, as well as our firm intention to ensure that a new treaty on strategic arms enter into force at the earliest possible date," the statement said.
The Obama administration had pushed hard for a new START agreement as part of its efforts to improve strained US ties with Russia, but disputes over US monitoring of Russian missiles had bogged down talks in recent weeks.
An English-language version of the statement released by the US State Department stressed that "the (security) assurances recorded in the Budapest Memoranda will remain in effect" after the treaty expires.
Signed in 1991, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty led to deep cuts in the US and Russian nuclear arsenals and came to be seen as a cornerstone of strategic arms control.
US and Russian negotiators had held frenetic talks in Geneva in recent weeks to thrash out a successor to the hugely complex treaty.
Obama and Medvedev spoke by telephone on Friday and agreed to give an "additional impulse" to the Geneva negotiations, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Hours before the midnight deadline, there was no sign of a last-minute deal, nor was there any announcement of an interim agreement to extend verification measures from the 1991 treaty.
Such measures had helped build trust between the former Cold War foes and reduce the threat of nuclear Armageddon.
Facing the end of the treaty, a US inspection team on Friday ended nearly 20 years of monitoring at Russia's leading missile-production plant.
The 20 US inspectors quit their posts at the plant in Votkinsk, about 580 kilometres (360 miles) northeast of Moscow, a spokesman for the US Embassy in Moscow told AFP.
Russia had reportedly been opposed to the inspections continuing, saying they were unfair and unilateral given that Moscow had recalled its own inspectors at similar US missile sites in 2001.
"The firm position of the Russian delegation hinges on the departure of the unilateral US military inspections from Votkinsk," a source close to the talks told the RIA-Novosti news agency.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it would not take much longer to agree on the replacement treaty.
"We're working on it. As soon as it is ready it will be signed. It shouldn't take too long," Lavrov told reporters in Brussels.
A Russian foreign ministry source told the ITAR-TASS state news agency that negotiations could "continue over a few days."
Earlier this week, a US State Department spokesman had said that negotiators were aiming to reach an agreement "by the end of December."
The nuclear talks were part of a broader push by the Obama administration to build a better relationship with Russia, which included efforts to win Moscow's cooperation on the Iranian nuclear programme and the war in Afghanistan.
Optimism on reaching a START deal had abounded in September after the Obama administration removed a major hurdle to the talks by scrapping a plan to build a missile shield in eastern Europe, which was fiercely opposed by Russia.
The broad outlines of the successor treaty had been agreed in July at a summit in Moscow.
At the meeting, Obama and Medvedev agreed to reduce the number of warheads on either side to between 1,500 and 1,675 and the number of "carriers" capable of delivering them to between 500 and 1,100.
The New York Times, citing an unnamed US official, reported this week that the two sides had managed to narrow the gap on carriers to a number below 800.
The term "carriers" typically refers to intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-based missiles and strategic bombers.

Saturday, December 5th 2009
Alexander Osipovich

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