U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be in Moscow from March 18 to19. Despite the fact that her visit had long ago been scheduled to take place, it will be occurring after an important telephone conversation between presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama. The Kremlin signaled that it is possible to start talking about specific dates for the submission of the draft of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) for signing by the two presidents. Washington is more careful with its assessments.
The announcement about the telephone conversation between the presidents of Russia and the United States first appeared on the Kremlin website on Saturday: “The heads of state, based on an already established tradition, held a regular exchange of opinions regarding the final stage of preparations of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty,” reads the press release. Both sides “expressed satisfaction with the high level of agreement on the basic provisions of the draft treaty”. However, the key phrase, which immediately caught on in the global media, was as follows: “It was underlined that it is now possible to discuss specific dates for submission of the draft START treaty for signing by the heads of state”.
This statement is especially important in the light of Washington’s recent criticism made in Medvedev’s address. As already been reported by Nezavisimaya Gazeta(NG), the U.S. believes that the Russian leader stalled the process of successful completion of negotiations in February, by, in his conversation with Obama, raising new issues which must be negotiated. Russian experts suspected that this was a way that Moscow decided to show Washington its political discontent with America’s unilateral plans to deploy Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) sites in Bulgaria and Romania. According to the New York Times, which cites an anonymous source from the Obama administration, the issue of America’s anti-ballistic missile defense in Europe is not completely closed: the parties “are moving toward an understanding regarding this issue”. The United States continues to refuse including BMD restrictions in the new START treaty.
The publication notes that the two sides have been working on incorporating text in the preamble to the treaty that recognizes Russia’s interest in linking defensive and offensive weapons. However, in the preamble it is written that it “contains regulating goals and regulating principles that have no direct legal force, but may be considered by legal practitioners in interpreting other rules of the document”.
Russian experts continue to suggest that Moscow is capable of convincing the United States of the need to avoid taking unilateral steps in the BMD sphere. Thus, the treaty must stipulate that each party is permitted to withdraw from the agreement by informing the other party, which must be done within an agreed-upon time period, if it feels that its security is under threat and that the situation is incompatible with the implementation of the treaty. Moreover, as noted by Aleksey Arbatov, director of the Center for International Security at IMEMO RAN in his conversation with NG – having ratified the new treaty, Russia will be able to make a unilateral statement that it considers one of such circumstances to be the deployment of America’s BMD, which would jeopardize Russia’s nuclear deterrent. “This will be a warning message to the United States, that they must be careful,” says the expert. Meanwhile, Washington acknowledges that technical issues, associated with monitoring and verification, have yet to be worked out. “We are not ready to declare victory. But we believe this was a good step forward,” an American official commented on the conversation between the two presidents. White House spokesman Mike Hammer called the results of the conversation, which lasted for 30 minutes and was held at the initiative of Russia’s leader, “encouraging”.
According to the Kremlin press release, Medvedev and Obama agreed to provide additional instructions to the delegations at the talks in Geneva, and discussed plans of bilateral contacts in the near future. It seems that both leaders are determined to signing the START treaty during the Summit on Nuclear Safety in Washington, which is scheduled to take place in less than a month and in which both Medvedev and Obama intend to participate. The issue of the new treaty, as it has already been officially confirmed in Moscow and in Washington, will also be raised during Hillary Clinton’s March 18-19 visit to Russia’s capital. She will meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and, according to U.S. media reports, with President Dmitry Medvedev.
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