- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The United States is about to lose a key arms-control tool from the closing days of the Cold War — the right to station American observers in Russia to count the long-range missiles leaving its assembly line.

The end of full-time, on-site access will likely ignite complaints in Congress, with insiders from both parties arguing over whether the George W. Bush or the Obama administration is responsible.

Republicans are worried by the previously undisclosed agreement between the Obama administration and the Kremlin in October, which formalizes the inspectors’ departure this Saturday. This, they warn, would cripple Washington’s ability to police Moscow’s compliance with agreed reductions in its nuclear arsenal.

Democrats, on the other hand, insist they were “stuck” with an agreement reached late last year between the Bush administration and Moscow but not made public. This, they said, left the Obama team no choice.

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The U.S.-staffed Votkinsk Portal Monitoring Facility operates under the terms of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) at the Votkinsk Machine Building Plant, about 600 miles east of Moscow — the site where all Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are built.

The monitoring facility’s present mandate ends with START’s expiration Saturday, and the Obama administration has decided not to seek another agreement allowing Americans to remain, administration and congressional officials said.

“U.S. and Russian officials signed on Oct. 20 a series of documents, which establish the procedures to be followed for the completion of U.S. monitoring activities at the Russian ICBM production facility at Votkinsk,” a State Department official said.

The two countries first agreed to “continuous monitoring” under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed by President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

The reciprocal site to Votkinsk in the United States was the former Hercules Aerospace missile production facility in Magna, Utah, which the Russians left more than eight years ago.

Although the United States does not produce new long-range missiles, Russia continues to do so and has built dozens of missiles since the monitoring started15 years ago. START banned certain types of missiles, which Americans at Votkinsk verified by counting and inspecting every missile that left the facility, analysts said.

However, the head of Russia’s strategic missile forces, Nikolai Solovtsov, was recently quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that the assembly and deployment of next-generation RS-24 missiles would start once the treaty expires. Analysts said that could happen, because Moscow was not banned from developing new missiles.

During a visit to Moscow by President Obama in July, both countries agreed to draft a new arms-control treaty that would replace START. They also set a goal of cutting the number of strategic nuclear warheads to between 1,500 and 1,675 within seven years.

It now appears unlikely that the two countries will meet a self-imposed Dec. 5 deadline, but State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Monday the U.S. hopes to have a draft treaty by the end of the month.

“Two main priorities here are reductions in nuclear arsenals and also preserving the verifications and monitoring mechanisms that are at the heart of the START treaty,” Mr. Kelly said.

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