US and Russia to sign new arms control treaty

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev meeting in July 2009
Image: Presidential Press and Information Office.

According to officials from the United States and Russia, the two countries are to sign a new treaty on the control of nuclear weapons in Prague sometime next month.

According to the unnamed officials, some work still remained on the treaty, a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which was signed in 1991 and expired in December 2009. An American official said that while "we are still working to finalize the treaty," diplomats from both sides said they were optimistic that the deal was near completion.

The new-found optimism came after a recent breakthrough in negotiations, which have taken nearly a year, longer than either the Americans or Russians expected. Originally, the treaty was to be negotiated in London of April 2009, but the completion date was then pushed back to December 2009, a deadline that passed with no deal.

Contentious issues in the negotiations included devising a way to make sure each side was complying with the requirements, the sharing of technology between the two sides, and how to limit defense programs in both countries. While an original plan for an American defense system was abandoned by Barack Obama, a second plan presented by the US was also opposed by the Russians, which were pushing for language that would restrict the American nuclear program. The final text will be composed of largely non-binding language recognizing the relationship between different types of weapons.

Under this text, both countries would be forced to reduce their deployed nuclear warheads to around 1,600, down from a current limit of 2,200. The treaty would also require the arsenal of "delivery vehicles," aircraft or missiles that can carry the warheads, to be halved to 800. Arms-control advocates consider the reductions in the treaty relatively minor, but the Obama administration hopes to end negotiations with a simpler and more straight-forward treaty as a way to rebuild trust with the Russian government in preparation for more drastic changes in the future.