US-Russia Nuclear Disarmament Treaty to Expire at 7 pm ET Tonight with Nothing to Replace It

By Gorman Gorman

Dec 4, 2009 12:20pm

Jake Tapper, Sunlen Miller, and Alexander Marquardt report:

Negotiators for President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have failed to arrive at an agreement to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) nuclear disarmament agreement which expires at midnight GMT (7 pm ET, 3 am in Russia), or even a bridging agreement until a replacement is ready.

Both the White House and Kremlin are doing all they can to pretend that this is no big deal.

In a joint statement by the two leaders about the expiration of the START agreement, they say: "Recognizing our mutual determination to support strategic stability between the United States of America and the Russian Federation, 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."

This morning White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that President Obama spoke on the phone this morning with Russian President Medvedev from the White House, "to continue to make progress on a renewed START agreement."

"They are going to continue working and we'll see throughout the weekend what they are going to come up with," Gibbs said, "I think there are issues that are on both sides of this that each side wants to see worked out." Gibbs said that both sides believe "that we can work through these issues with a little more time."

For months, the White House insisted they would make the December 5 deadline.

In April they heralded a major announcement in US-Russian relations.

During the US-Russian Summit in July there was much fanfare about agreements being made, amidst talk by the president of a new day dawning on US-Russian relations.

The one wrinkle — in July, on White House adviser discussed possibly needing to enact verification procedures on an executive basis while temporarily bypassing the Senate on a provisional basis.

Then in November, suddenly, the White House acknowledged they would not make the deadline though there would be a bridging agreement. Michael McFaul, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and senior director of Russian and Eurasian Affairs at the United States National Security Council, told reporters:  "We do need a bridging agreement no matter what. The key thing there is verification. We just want to preserve the verification."

But Russia did not want a bridge deal that would simply extend START because there are provisions in the agreement that they're trying to get rid of in the new treaty. 

Most notably, Russia wanted to get rid of the 20 American observers at the Topol missile factory in Votkinsk who left this morning, according to the US Embassy in Moscow.

Russian observers left the US years ago when the US stopped producing ICBMs, which Russia still does.

McFaul's statement that the US need "a bridging agreement no matter what" is no longer operative, a senior administration official tells ABC News, saying that US-Russian negotiators "are so close to a final agreement, there is no need for negotiators to waste their time with a bridging agreement."
 
The official says the goal is still that by the end of this year there will be an agreement — something signed by Obama and Medvedev, though not ratified by the Duma or the Senate.

Signed into law in March 1991, START removed more than 75 percent of the strategic nuclear weapons in both countries' arsenals.
 
As of midnight tonight the famous binding START nuclear disarmament treaty between the US and Russia is — POOF! — no more.

- Jake Tapper, Sunlen Miller, and Alexander Marquardt

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