US-Russian nuclear treaty expires, talks continue

US-Russian nuclear treat

A Cold War-era nuclear arms control agreement between the United States and Russia expires Friday, but its key provisions are likely to remain in effect while negotiators work out the final details of a replacement treaty. Neither the US nor Russia anticipates security problems after expiration of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Negotiators had given up hope months ago of having a new deal ratified and in place before the expiration at midnight Greenwich Mean Time, which is 7 p.m. EST. The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday that work on preparing a new agreement for signing is nearly finished. The ministry said the new treaty would become "another landmark in disarmament and nonproliferation and mark a move toward a higher degree of cooperation between Russia and the United States." Ratification of a new deal by Congress and the Russian Duma is likely to take months. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, initially had set the expiration date as a target for completing negotiations. The expiring START treaty, signed by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and President George H.W. Bush in 1991, required each country to cut its nuclear warheads by at least one-fourth, to about 6,000, and to implement procedures for verifying that each side was sticking to the agreement. The legal basis for the procedures, including inspections of nuclear facilities, also will expire Friday. Both sides are expected to allow each other to continue them until a new deal is in place. The State Department said this week that it believes the two sides can keep some of the verification procedures in place through an informal political agreement that is not legally binding. Meanwhile, negotiators still are grappling over verification procedures for the new treaty, which have become the final sticking point preventing a deal. The Obama administration would welcome a quick conclusion to demonstrate an improvement in US-Russian relations and to gain momentum for other arms control and nonproliferation goals. Washington also is looking for cooperation on issues including reining in Iran's nuclear ambitions. However, Russia has fewer incentives for an immediate deal. Obama and Medvedev agreed at a Moscow summit in July to cut the number of nuclear warheads each possesses to between 1,500 and 1,675 within seven years as part of a broad new treaty. The Obama administration also had held out hope that a deal could be sealed in time for Obama's trip to Europe to accept the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10. It appears unlikely, however, that a breakthrough will happen by then.