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US, Russia leaders look ahead to new nuclear arms reduction treaty

[JURIST] In a telephone conversation Saturday, US President Barack Obama and Russia President Dmitry Medvedev [official profiles] approved [press release, in Russian] of progress towards the first nuclear weapons reduction treaty since 1991. Wrapping up talks on the treaty to replace the recently expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I Treaty) [materials], Obama and Medvedev reviewed the negotiations, agreed to provide additional guidance to delegations [AFP report], and discussed plans for bilateral contacts. The landmark treaty will include significant reductions [WSJ report] in both the number of deployed nuclear weapons as well as the number of nuclear-delivery systems. Although a no time frame was given, the Kremlin [official website, in Russian] says the conversation opened the possibility for setting a firm date for signing. White House National Security Council [official website] spokesperson Mike Hammer described the talks as encouraging, saying that both Obama and Medvedev are committed to reaching an agreement soon [Reuters report]. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to visit Moscow on Thursday and Friday where she will discuss START with Russia Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov [official profiles].

Both US and Russia officials have recently expressed a desire to have the treaty in place prior to the upcoming Global Nuclear Security Summit [NTI backgrounder] in April, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference [CAC fact sheet] in May. Last month, US Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller [official profile] went to Paris to finalize the treaty [JURIST report] after Obama and Medvedev reached an in-principle agreement. In January, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov [official profile] said that nuclear arms reduction negotiations with the US were likely to resume [JURIST report] in early February. Nuclear disarmament between the US and Russia, whose nuclear arsenals comprise 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons, languished [JURIST report] during the Bush administration. The treaty is considered a key part of easing tensions between the former Cold War rivals, which reached their worst point after the 2008 Georgia conflict [BBC backgrounder]. Advocacy groups, including the Arms Control Association [advocacy website], support the treaty for not only limiting the number of nuclear weapons, but for also providing methods for each side to moderator the other. The US and Russia began nuclear disarmament talks last April and originally set a deadline for December, when START I expired. Last July, Obama and Medvedev agreed [NYT report] to tentative terms for the treaty.

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