MOSCOW, May 18 (RIA Novosti) - The controversy over U.S. plans for a missile shield in Europe may prevent Washington and Moscow from striking a new strategic arms reduction deal before yearend, a Russian business daily said Monday.
A team of U.S. negotiators led by Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller arrives in Moscow on Monday for a first two-day round of official U.S.-Russian talks on a replacement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which is set to expire on December 5, 2009.
Despite optimism expressed by both sides, the Kommersant newspaper said there is only a very slim chance that Moscow and Washington will be able to adopt a new document by the December deadline, because Russia intends to link the issue with the deployment of U.S. missile defenses in Europe.
The Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START 1), signed in 1991, obliges Russia and the United States to reduce nuclear warheads to 6,000 and their delivery vehicles to 1,600 each. In 2002, a follow-up agreement on strategic offensive arms reduction was concluded in Moscow. The agreement, known as the Moscow Treaty, envisioned cuts to 1,700-2,200 warheads by December 2012.
According to a report published by the U.S. State Department in April, as of January 1 Russia had 3,909 nuclear warheads and 814 delivery vehicles, including ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and strategic bombers.
The same report stated the United States had 5,576 warheads and 1,198 delivery vehicles.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his U.S. counterpart, Barack Obama, agreed during their London meeting in early April on an immediate start to talks on a new strategic arms reduction treaty.
Moscow, which proposed a new arms reduction agreement with Washington in 2005, expects the United States to agree on a deal that would restrict not only the numbers of nuclear warheads but also place limits on all existing kinds of delivery vehicles.
Moscow also insists on the effective use of control mechanisms and procedures, "which the previous administration ignored categorically," according to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
To meet the ambitious deadline, the sides have five months to overcome their differences in the approach to arms reduction, which includes the deployment of nuclear weapons in space and the so-called retrievable nuclear arsenals (stockpiled warheads).
However, they do not even have a draft document and the United States has not yet submitted its written proposals on the issue, the Kommersant said.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin could insist that Washington abandons plans to place 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a tracking radar in the Czech republic before striking a new arms reduction deal. Russia says the U.S. missile shield would be a threat to its national security.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin reiterated during his recent visit to Japan that "Russia will certainly link missile defense with all related issues, including strategic arms reduction."
U.S. officials have traditionally maintained that the deployment of a U.S. missile "umbrella" in Europe was aimed at countering the threat of missile attacks from rogue states such as Iran, and repeatedly refused to consider it as a "bargaining chip" in negotiations with Russia.