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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Arms Control: Key Issue Between Washington, Moscow

Andre de Nesnera | Washington 30 December 2009

Arms control is a key issue between Washington and Moscow. In this report from Washington, Senior Correspondent André de Nesnera speaks with three former senior U.S. government officials about arms control and the state of U.S.-Russia relations.

Many analysts agree that during the eight years of the Bush administration, U.S.-Russia relations steadily deteriorated. And experts wondered whether President Barack Obama would reverse that downward trend.

Only weeks after Mr. Obama was inaugurated, Vice President Joe Biden answered that question in a speech to an international security conference in Munich, Germany.

"It's time - to paraphrase President Obama - it's time to press the reset button," he said. "And to revisit the many areas where we can and should be working together with Russia."

Experts say that speech set a new, positive tone for relations between Washington and Moscow.

Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft describes the current relationship as "prickly, but improving."

"The whole notion, the 'reset button,' is psychologically the right thing to do," he said. "Our relationship has been increasingly souring for a number of years now and it's important to turn it around. And I think we're on the verge now."

The two sides are working on a follow-on agreement to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START 1, which expired on December 5. But both sides say they will abide by the treaty provisions until a new accord is reached.

At a July summit in Moscow, President Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev, agreed on the basic terms of a new treaty. They said they will reduce their countries' arsenals of strategic nuclear warheads as well as delivery systems, such as missiles and long-range bombers.

The START 1 treaty also has strict verification provisions that many experts say must be included in any follow-on accord.

One of those experts is former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger.

"The real question is the details," he said. "As you know, to this point, the START treaty has included verification of, in particular, what the Russians have been doing with regard to their offensive forces and their production complex. And we certainly are interested in seeing a continuation of the verification process."

Many experts say Moscow wants to have less intrusive verification procedures put into the follow-on to the START 1 treaty, while Washington wants stronger measures.

Former Secretary of State [1992] Lawrence Eagleburger says the Russians are tough bargainers.

"The Russians are now, for instance, on the nuclear issues that have bedeviled us in the past, the Russians have, I gather, recently toughened their stance on some of those questions," he said.

"And under those circumstances, well in fact this administration, this regime - because it's so anxious to work a relationship with the Russians - may in fact make some compromises that I think would be very unwise," he added.

Those compromises, says Eagleburger, could be in the form of lax verification provisions.

But other experts say that because any treaty must be ratified by the U.S. Senate, every provision will be scrutinized very carefully - especially the one dealing with verification. The treaty must also be ratified by the Russian parliament, or Duma. But analysts say that is a foregone conclusion.

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