CLIFFORD J. LEVY and PETER BAKER–
MOSCOW – The United States and Russia, seeking to move forward on one of the most significant arms control treaties since the end of the of the cold war, announced Monday that they had reached a preliminary agreement on cutting each country’s stockpiles of strategic nuclear weapons.
The so-called framework agreement was put together by negotiators as President Obama arrived here for his first Russian-American summit meeting, and approved by Mr. Obama and Russia’s president, Dmitri A. Medvedev. They announced it at a news conference here Monday night.
The agreement commits both sides to modest reductions in the legal limits on nuclear arsenals as they draft a new arms control treaty for the next generation.
The summit meeting comes less than a year after the conflict in Georgia caused the worst tensions between the United States and Russia since the end of the cold war. The Obama administration has said it wants to rebuild in relations, and the meeting will offer the most telling evidence so far about how difficult that may prove.
Both sides say they hope that the nuclear agreement would effectively set the stage for a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, a cold war-era pact that expires in December.
Beyond that, they said they want to build momentum for a broader agreement to be negotiated starting next year to impose deeper cuts in their nuclear arsenals and put the world on a path toward eliminating nuclear weapons altogether.
Russia has repeatedly objected to an American antimissile system in Eastern Europe, making clear that the United States needed to compromise on the system before Russia would sign off on an arms agreement. American officials say it is intended to ward off attacks from countries like Iran, but the Kremlin views it as a threat to Russia. On Monday, it appeared that the two sides decided to postpone addressing the missile system; they issued a joint statement indicating that they would continue to discuss it. They also agreed to undertake a joint assessment of any threats presented by Iran.
The framework document sets the parameters for talks through the end of the year, according to officials.
Negotiators are to be instructed to craft a treaty that would cut strategic warheads for each side to between 1,500 and 1,675, down from the limit of 2,200 slated to take effect in 2012 under the Treaty of Moscow signed by President George W. Bush.
The limit on delivery vehicles would be cut to between 500 and 1,100 from the 1,600 currently allowed under Start.
The countries would be required to meet the limits in the treaty within seven years, officials said.
Perhaps more important than the specific limits would be a revised and extended verification system that otherwise would expire with Start in December.
While only a first step, the agreement came only after arduous negotiations that at several points over the past few weeks appeared to be faltering.
In the end, though, both sides wanted to produce something so they could call the summit meeting a success and further the effort to improve relations, which soured in the final years of the presidency of Mr. Bush.
Mr. Obama also announced an agreement to resume military to military contacts nearly a year after Russia’s war with Georgia disrupted the relationship. They have also sealed a deal allowing the American military to fly up to 10 planes a day, or thousands a year, through Russian airspace to transport troops and weapons to the war in Afghanistan.
In opening remarks at the Kremlin, Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev said they hoped their meetings would improve relations in both tone and substance. Mr. Obama noted that the two had met at the Group of 20 summit meeting in April in London.
“We are confident that we can continue to build off the extraordinary discussions that we had in London,” Mr. Obama said, “and that on a whole host of issues – including security issues, economic issues, energy issues, environmental issues – that the United States and Russia have more in common than they have differences.”
Mr. Medvedev suggested Russia wanted to overcome recent strains as well. “It is our expectation,” he said, “that during the deliberations that we will have today and tomorrow, we will have full-fledged discussions regarding the relations between our two countries, a closing of some of the pages of the past and an opening of some of the pages of the future.”
The nuclear arms limits embraced by Monday’s agreement would codify and continue the natural reductions of each side’s arsenal that have been occurring since the end of the cold war.
The United States currently has 1,198 land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-based missiles and bombers, which together are capable of delivering 5,576 warheads, according to its most recent Start report in January. Because not all of them are “operationally deployed,” the Arms Control Association estimates that the United States currently deploys at least 2,200 strategic nuclear warheads.
Russia reported in January that it has 816 delivery vehicles capable of delivering 3,909 warheads. While the number of deployed Russian strategic warheads is not known, the Arms Control Association estimated it between 2,000 and 3,000. Both sides also have more warheads that are in storage or awaiting dismantlement and the treaty discussions do not cover thousands more tactical nuclear weapons.
Even so, the proposed missile defense system looms over the summit meeting. Under the Bush plan, the system would be based in Poland and the Czech Republic. “While the previous administration of the United States took a very hard-headed position on this issue,” Mr. Medvedev said over the weekend, “the current administration is ready to discuss the topic. I think that we are fully able to find a reasonable solution here.”
While Mr. Obama is not as enthusiastic about the system as Mr. Bush, he has not abandoned it and is awaiting a review by his advisers. In the meantime, he has resisted linking the missile defense system to the arms reductions negotiations.
Source: The New York Times