- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 22, 2009

MOSCOW | A new round of U.S.-Russia arms control talks began Monday, and Russian military specialists predicted they would not be easy, despite President Obama’s decision to scrap plans for an Eastern Europe-based missile shield that Moscow opposed.

Russian and U.S. diplomats are trying to negotiate a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) before it expires Dec. 5. The agreement is seen as crucial for both nations to keep an eye on each other’s nuclear stockpiles and also add credibility to their efforts to persuade countries such as Iran and North Korea to abandon their nuclear programs.

As talks got under way in Geneva, retired Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin said Mr. Obama’s decision to dump the George W. Bush-era plan for missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic removed a major stumbling block. Russian officials had vociferously opposed the plan, claiming it was meant to weaken Russia.

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But Gen. Dvorkin, the former head of a military think tank that developed Moscow’s strategy in arms control talks, said their differences were yet to be resolved.

Moscow and Washington have been arguing about which weapons will be subject to cuts, what will be the rules for counting nuclear warheads and how intrusive inspections of military facilities could be, Gen. Dvorkin told a news conference in Moscow.

“Negotiations aren’t going easily,” said retired Col. Gen. Viktor Yesin, the former chief of staff for the Russian military’s Strategic Missile Forces.

He told the news conference that Moscow wants an end to intrusive U.S. inspections at the main Russian missile factory in Votkinsk, 600 miles east of Moscow, while the United States wanted to continue them.

“There are still many obstacles negotiators have to deal with,” Gen. Yesin said.

The latest round of talks on a successor to START were expected to continue until Oct. 2, U.S. officials said.

Even if the parties fail to reach agreement quickly enough for the deal to be ratified before START expires, they may begin observing terms of the new deal immediately, Gen. Dvorkin said. “Nothing horrible will happen if the deal isn’t ratified by December 5,” he added.

Gen. Dvorkin said Mr. Obama’s move to scrap the missile shield in Eastern Europe has created favorable conditions for prospective Russian cooperation with the United States and NATO on joint missile defense. “If we do that, it will be even more important than START,” he said, adding that cooperation on a missile shield would dramatically boost mutual trust.

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