White House, Kremlin, Claim START II Treaty Imminent

Mar 24, 2010 2:21pm

Jake Tapper and Alexander Marquardt report:

White House officials today said that a new nuclear arms control treaty with Russia is imminent, with President Obama and Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev scheduled to speak and finalize the negotiations in the next few days. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed that the formal treaty would be signed in Prague in the Czech Republic, perhaps as soon as next month.

“We are, I think, very close to having an agreement on a START treaty,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters today.

Officials with the office of Czech President Vaclav Klaus announced Wednesday that Prague would host the signing of the arms treaty. Gibbs said that Prague would be a natural venue, given President Obama’s April 5, 2009, speech there in which he outlined his goals for a denuclearized world.

"We've always discussed internally returning to the city the president outlined a speech in last year envisioning a world without nuclear weapons," Gibbs said today. "We believe that a new START treaty begins to take many important steps between the two greatest holders of those nuclear weapons.  So I would anticipate that when we have something to sign, it will be in Prague."

Separately, a source in the Kremlin tells ABC News that the documents relating to the new START treaty have been “coordinated.” The terms have been agreed to, the official said, there are no more differences in position — what remains to be finalized is the treaty’s language.

The previous Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), signed into law in March 1991, removed more than 75 percent of the strategic nuclear weapons in both countries' arsenals.  But that treaty expired on December 5, 2009.

For months before the deadline expired, the White House insisted they would come up with a new treaty before December 6, 2009, requiring both nations to further reduce their nuclear warheads and weapon launchers by more than one-quarter.

In April 2009, White House officials heralded a major announcement in US-Russian relations.

During the US-Russian Summit in July 2009 there was much fanfare about agreements being made, amidst talk by the president of a new day dawning on US-Russian relations.

Then in November 2009 White House officials suddenly acknowledged they would not make the deadline though they argued 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 back then:  "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 have been trying to get rid of in the new treaty, most notably, 20 American observers at the Topol missile factory in Votkinsk who left Russia when the treaty expired on December 5, according to the US Embassy in Moscow.

Back then, a senior administration official told ABC News that McFaul's statement that the US need "a bridging agreement no matter what" was no longer operative, since US-Russian negotiators were "so close to a final agreement, there is no need for negotiators to waste their time with a bridging agreement." The official said the goal is still that by the end of 2009 there would be an agreement — something signed by Obama and Medvedev, though not ratified by the Duma or the Senate.

That end-of-2009 deadline did not happen and the deadline was pushed to a more vague sometime in 2010.

– Jake Tapper at the White House and Alexander Marquardt in Moscow

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