Friday, February 5, 2010

PARIS | The first major U.S.-Russian nuclear arms control treaty in nearly two decades should be ready for signing by the end of March, a senior Russian legislator said.

President Obama’s top arms control official, Undersecretary of State Ellen Tauscher, also commenting on the talks toward a successor agreement to the now-expired 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), said these are “in the endgame.”

U.S. and Russian officials said last year that they would sign a new treaty by the end of December, but talks have dragged on.

Moscow and Washington both want to reach a new accord as quickly as possible to give credibility to their efforts to persuade Iran and North Korea to abandon their nuclear programs.

START required each country to cut nuclear warheads by about one-fourth to about 6,000 and implement procedures for verifying the reductions. Mr. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed in July to cut the number of nuclear warheads each country has to between 1,500 and 1,675 under a new treaty.

One of the hang-ups has been including missile-defense issues in a new accord. If completed, the new deal may arguably be the farthest-reaching arms control treaty since the original 1991 agreement. An interim deal reached in 2002 did not include its own rules on verifying nuclear reductions.

Speaking to the Associated Press during a nuclear disarmament conference in Paris Wednesday, Mikhail Margelov, the Kremlin-connected head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev would sign a new treaty “by the end of the first quarter.”

“This is not a political question, it is a technical question,” he said. “We are fine-tuning and polishing details.”

In Moscow, Mr. Medvedev’s foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko said “March or April is a realistic target,” according to Russian news agencies.

Both sides say they will abide by the old START treaty, which expired Dec. 5, until a new one is signed.

Ms. Tauscher showed no sign of readiness to abandon the U.S. nuclear deterrent.

“Nuclear disarmament is not the Holy Grail,” she said. “As long as we see the rise of nuclear weapons in other countries we will maintain a deterrence that is second to none.”

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