- The Washington Times - Monday, May 18, 2009

MOSCOW — Russia and the United States open fresh nuclear disarmament negotiations this week under pressure to strike a deal by year’s end that experts say will have far-reaching consequences for world security.

The talks mark the resumption, after a generation of drift, of a process begun in 1969 at the height of the Cold War and are a central element of President Obama’s stated desire to “reset” frayed ties with Russia.

The initial two-day negotiating session was due to start Tuesday. Heads of the U.S. and Russian delegations held a technical meeting in Rome last month, but the Moscow talks will mark the formal start of the process, officials said.

Disagreements between the two countries on the size, nature and purpose of their nuclear arsenals and strategic weapons systems abound, but both have indicated recently that the political will to overcome them now exists.

“There are good chances for bringing our positions closer and for working out agreements,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week after meeting Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Washington.

Pressure on negotiators was heightened after the White House announced that Mr. Obama will travel to Moscow on July 6 for talks with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, on reducing nuclear weapons arsenals and other security challenges.

The meeting will allow the United States and the Russian Federation an opportunity “to deepen engagement on reducing nuclear weapons, cooperating on nonproliferation, exploring ways to cooperate on missile defense, addressing mutual threats and security challenges,” the White House said.

The main agreement governing U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), expires Dec. 5 and there has been little specific discussion on the next step.

Areas of discord include nuclear warhead limits, delivery systems like bombers and missiles, and verification procedures.

Despite the technical complexity and tight schedule of the negotiations, both countries have deep-seated national interests in ensuring that the talks happen and conclude with results that both can hold up to the world as meaningful progress.

The format of the talks gives Russia strategic “parity” with the United States, a matter that diplomats say is of huge importance to Moscow as it seeks to recover the global prestige enjoyed prior to the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

“The moment appears ripe for a renewal of arms control with Russia,” said the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States, headed by former Defense Secretary William Perry.

“In support of its arms control interests and interest in strategic stability more generally, the United States should pursue a much broader and more ambitious set of strategic dialogues” with Russia and others, it said.

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