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U.S., Russia Make Progress on Nuclear Reduction Agreement

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 11, 2009 – The United States and Russia are making progress on a pledge to reach an agreement on a nuclear weapons reduction pact to replace a long-standing bilateral treaty that expired last week.

Negotiations have proceeded quietly in Switzerland under tight secrecy, according to reports. But an administration official this week said the two sides are making progress on reaching an agreement.

“We're getting closer and making progress on an agreement,” White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Dec. 9. “I know there are still issues that have to be worked out that stand in the way of that ultimate agreement. And our principals continue to meet and brief the president on what's happening, and that will continue until we do get an agreement. We're optimistic that we can get one.”

In a joint statement last week, President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev agreed in principle to continue working to forge a new agreement that, in effect, would replace the expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

“Recognizing our mutual determination to support strategic stability between the United States of America and the Russian Federation,” the Dec. 4 statement reads, “we express our commitment, as a matter of principle, to continue to work together in the spirit of the START Treaty following its expiration, as well as our firm intention to ensure that a new treaty on strategic arms enter into force at the earliest possible date.”

The START treaty, signed in July 1991 by President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, is considered the biggest arms reduction treaty ever brokered.

Under the agreement, Russia has more than halved its nuclear arsenal, destroying over 3,000 intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, 45 atomic submarines and more than 65 strategic bombers, Russia’s foreign ministry said. The United States also reduced by more than 3,000 its arsenal of intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and cut the amount of launchers and heavy bombers.

In April, Obama and Medvedev agreed in London that American and Russian negotiators would begin work on a new legally binding agreement on reducing and limiting strategic offensive arms to replace START, which expired Dec. 5.

The presidents signed a joint understanding in July, committing the United States and Russia to reduce their strategic warheads to a range of 1,500 to 1,675, and their strategic delivery vehicles to a range of 500 to 1,100. Before it expired, START and subsequent related treaties signed in Moscow set the maximum allowable levels of warheads at 2200 and the level of launch vehicles at 1,600.

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