GENEVA (Reuters) - U.S. and Russian officials began week-long talks in Geneva on Thursday on the landmark 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires in a year, spokesmen from both sides said.
Washington sent Moscow a proposal last month for a follow-on to the Cold War-era pact, reached after a decade of negotiations and summitry between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. It runs out on December 5, 2009.
“I can confirm that the meetings have started,” said Dick Wilbur, a spokesman at the U.S. mission in Geneva.
Officials from the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, where Soviet nuclear weapons were withdrawn under the treaty, are also taking part, a Russian diplomat said.
“The talks did begin, they held consultations today on the implementation of START,” he told Reuters. The technical-level talks are expected to conclude around November 21.
Moscow has indicated it would be willing to consider U.S. proposals for a new version of the pact, whose implementation is overseen by a joint commission.
Gerry Taylor, director of the office of verification, compliance and inspections at the State Department, was leading a U.S. delegation composed of some 20 experts. The name of his Russian counterpart was not immediately available.
Earlier this month, acting U.S. Under-Secretary of State for arms control John Rood said that Washington was looking forward to “a robust dialogue” with the Russian side.
But U.S. arms control experts said at that time it was unlikely that Moscow would be ready to make any serious move before President George W. Bush steps down next January.
President-elect Barack Obama has said he would seek real, verifiable reductions in all U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons and try to extend the monitoring and verification provisions of the START treaty.
The United States and Russia announced in 2001 they had met requirements under the pact to deploy a maximum of 6,000 nuclear warheads each.
START was the first treaty to reduce strategic offensive weapons. Under its provisions, talks on a successor agreement have to begin at least a year before the original pact expires.
The U.S. wants a new accord to focus on limiting nuclear warheads rather than on the missile delivery systems which are at the center of the 1991 treaty. But Russia has indicated that it is not happy with this approach.
Relations between the two powers have also been strained by U.S. plans to place parts of an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic, countries that were part of the old Soviet bloc when START was negotiated.
Moscow regards this project as a threat to its security, although Washington says the system is meant for protection against “rogue” states like Iran. Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev has said his country would respond by stationing new missiles in Kaliningrad, its Baltic enclave next to Poland.
Additional reporting by Robert Evans in Geneva; Editing by Laura MacInnis and Mark Trevelyan