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Ex-US diplomat: Russia balks at zero nuke talks

Ex-US diplomat: Russia balks at zero nuke talks

Russia is not ready to agree to a proposed new round of arms control talks that were to begin after a deal is reached on extending the START 1 nuclear treaty, a U.S. nuclear expert said Tuesday.
The comments by former U.S. diplomat Richard Burt came after discussions in Moscow between Russian foreign ministry officials and representatives of Global Zero, a nongovernment nuclear disarmament group that includes more than 200 political leaders and military officials from around the world.
"I think it's fair to say they're not ready to commit to a new round of negotiations at this stage," Burt told The Associated Press in an interview. The former Reagan administration official was chief negotiator for the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START 1, and now serves as chairman of the U.S. delegation to Global Zero.
Moscow's refusal to schedule new bilateral talks would be a setback for the group, which hopes to use extension of the START 1 agreement as a springboard to the first phase of its long-range plan for banning nuclear arms worldwide.
"Our message to the Russians was that now we've got this arms control process back on track, we need to keep up the momentum," Burt said.
Burt and other Global Zero commission members met with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Tuesday. A ministry statement released after that meeting did not mention the proposal to follow up START 1 deal with fresh bilateral talks.
The Russian statement said only that President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had created a "realistic platform for the continuation of dialogue on the nuclear disarmament."
President Barack Obama and Medvedev both said last April they were committed to the eventual goal of a nuclear-free world. In July, they agreed that the current START talks should seek to reduce both countries' arsenals to between 1,500 and 1,675 nuclear weapons.
Burt said the two sides seem ready to reach an agreement on a successor deal by the time START 1 treaty expires Dec. 5.
But the Global Zero initiative, founded last December, has proposed following up the current negotiations with new bilateral talks aimed at slashing the U.S. and Russian arsenals in steps.
The first step under the Global Zero plan would reduce those arsenals to 1,000 warheads each by 2018, and to just 500 warheads each by 2021. At the same time, the world's other nuclear powers would freeze their nuclear stockpiles until 2018, followed by proportional reductions until 2021.
Global Zero's cuts would be even deeper than they sound, because they would include warheads not counted under the current START 1 treaty. The currently uncounted weapons include those in storage and so-called tactical nuclear weapons, designed to be used on the battlefield rather than placed on intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The commission envisages eliminating all nuclear weapons worldwide by 2030.
Burt said Russian officials appear to be concerned that steep cuts in their nuclear arsenal will leave them vulnerable to military threats.
"There is I think a feeling in certain circles in the Russian defense establishment that their conventional forces are rundown and as a result they're going to have to rely more on their nuclear forces," Burt said. "And if that becomes solidified into Russian policy, then the idea of getting to really significant reductions, to zero, is going to be very difficult."
Russian National Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev said recently that Moscow reserved the right to conduct pre-emptive nuclear strikes and added that U.S. and NATO still pose potential threats to Russia.
Burt said the biggest threat faced by both Russia and the U.S. isn't one another's nuclear arsenals, but the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
"The likelihood of a U.S.-Russia nuclear war or even a U.S.-Russia nuclear crisis is nearly zero at this point," he said. "What the problem I think that both countries face ...today is the spread of nuclear weapons and the possibility that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of the rogue states and terrorists groups."
"That is something that is very much a shared concern," he added.


Updated : 2021-06-19 12:37 GMT+08:00