GENEVA | It’s official - the U.S. and Russia want to revive arms control talks to cut their nuclear stockpiles.
“The right moment has come today, for the first time after the end of the Cold War, for making real progress in resuming the global disarmament process on a broad agenda,” Mr. Lavrov said at the U.N. Conference on Disarmament in Geneva over the weekend.
Mr. Lavrov’s comments were preceded by another bold statement by Mrs. Clinton during their meeting in this city, long associated with Cold War-era arms control negotiations.
“We are going to believe in arms control and nonproliferation as a core function of our foreign policy,” Mrs. Clinton said Friday, adding that there was “a great deal of confusion and infighting and ideological position-taking regarding arms control and nonproliferation in the last administration.”
Just a year ago, Mr. Lavrov delivered an unusually pessimistic speech at the Conference on Disarmament, a 65-nation body that has failed to produce any substantive results for years.
Russia and other countries blamed the George W. Bush administration’s decision to scrap the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which was necessary for the U.S. to begin developing a missile-defense system.
Mr. Clinton promised Mr. Lavrov that the Obama administration’s priority will be completing a follow-on accord to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) before it expires in December.
The agreement’s official name is START I, though negotiations on its two successors were never finalized.
“We agreed to a work plan,” Mrs. Clinton said after meeting with Mr. Lavrov. “We are going to create a very specific set of objectives and responsibilities. We hope to be in a position where we can present those to our two presidents before their meeting, so that they can then agree upon the instructions that should be provided to our negotiators.”
President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are expected to meet on the sidelines of a global financial summit in London early next month.
“There’s been some good preliminary work on START, and we intend to get fully immersed in that,” Mrs. Clinton said. “We discussed some of the elements of what a new treaty would look like.”
In spite of the secretary’s enthusiasm, however, “no decisions on the particulars of the U.S. negotiating position have been made,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association (ACA) in Washington.
Unlike the Russians, the Americans have not appointed negotiators, he added.
After a visit to Moscow to discuss arms control issues and specifically START, Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged Mr. Obama to name an ambassador-at-large for strategic negotiations with Russia.
One name that has been mentioned for a senior position in the field is Rose Gottemoeller, who is expected to become assistant secretary of state for arms control. A former deputy undersecretary of energy for defense nuclear nonproliferation, she was director of the Carnegie Moscow Center until recently.
Last summer, Ms. Gottemoeller made known her views on the future of START in an article in Arms Control Today, a magazine published by the ACA, and co-written by Alexei Arbatov, head of the Center for International Security at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of International Economy and International Relations.
The article suggested that START be replaced by “an enhanced SORT,” a reference to the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Moscow, which was negotiated by the Bush administration.
The new accord would include SORT’s basic premises, but with specific verification measures that do not exist in the 6-year-old document. Such measures can be found in START, but analysts deem many of them outdated.
“For the Russian side, the major goal would be to maintain a semblance of parity with the United States, while addressing the basic problem with SORT - the lack of acceptable counting rules and corresponding verification procedures,” the article said.
“For the U.S. side, the major goal would be to maintain sufficient transparency with respect to Russian strategic nuclear forces, while making sure that force cuts would not be too expensive for the United States,” it said.
The authors also suggested that “the upper limit allowed for strategic nuclear forces would be 1,700 deployed warheads, to be achieved by the end of 2012.” SORT required that both countries reduce their arsenals to 1,700 to 2,200 warheads, and today they are at the higher end, Mr. Kimball said.
Although the Obama administration’s official positions on START are still unknown, Russia has announced two major requirements.
“A future agreement should be legally binding,” Mr. Medvedev wrote in a letter to the Conference on Disarmament, which Mr. Lavrov read to delegates on Saturday.
“It is of no less importance that the instrument should be forward-looking and should limit not only warheads but also strategic delivery vehicles, i.e. intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers,” the Russian president wrote.
Diplomats in Geneva reacted positively to both Mr. Lavrov’s and Mrs. Clinton’s remarks, though some said that other accords should be taken up even while a replacement of START is being negotiated.
“There’s no reason to wait for START to re-energize the Conference on Disarmament on a fissile material cut-off treaty,” said John Duncan, Britain’s ambassador to the conference.
• John Zarocostas contributed to this report.