Kick-start of a new round of US-Russia nuclear reduction negotiations on the way
It was four years ago at the Munich Security Conference that Biden first spoke about the Obama administration's desire to "reset" U.S.-Russian relations after years of deterioration during the George W. Bush administration.
Now, at the beginning of Obama's second term, Biden and Donilon are leading the charge to reinvigorate that reset, following a series of setbacks in the U.S.-Russia relationship that has included President Vladimir Putin accusing the United States of meddling in Russian politics, anger over a new U.S. law to sanction Russian human rights violators, and a new Russian ban on Americans adopting Russian orphans.
Some in Congress are concerned that Biden and Donilon, in their upcoming meetings with Russian leaders, will define exactly what that "flexibility" might mean and propose unilateral reductions in U.S. nuclear stockpiles or alterations to U.S. missile-defense plans as an enticement for Russia to sit down for new talks.
There is no clarity on which types of weapons might be included in the next round of U.S.-Russia arms control negotiations, but the administration is said to be open to including strategic deployed nukes, strategic non-deployed nukes, tactical nukes, and missile defense in the talks.
U.S. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller is expected to visit Moscow in the near future to discuss a number of topics, including the future of the Nunn-Lugar nuclear ammunition disposal program.
"This visit will take place in mid-February. The sides will discuss issues surrounding arms control, the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as well as the future of the Nunn-Lugar program," a Moscow diplomatic source told Interfax on Thursday.
During the visit, Gottemoeller will meet with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, he said.
Last December, U.S. President Barack Obama called on Russia to act as an equal partner in drafting an agreement on the non-proliferation of nuclear materials.
The Nunn-Lugar plan, which dates back to 1992, allowed the U.S. to start assisting former Soviet states in their efforts to dispose of nuclear, chemical and bacteriological weapons. The U.S. spent more than $8 billion on this program in Russia alone from 1992 to 2012.
The Russian authorities have already notified Washington that they do not plan to prolong the agreement, which expires in May 2013, because Moscow views this document as discriminatory and fears that it could help the U.S. gain access to classified military information.
The National Security Advisor in the Obama Administration Tom Donilon intends to transmit a personal letter to Putin from Obama "articulating his plans for further U.S. arms reductions and perhaps even agreements about U.S. missile defenses to entice Russia to the negotiating table," the chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee Mike Rogers wrote, as The Cable blog of Foreign Policy magazine reports.
"Ahead of your unannounced discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov this weekend in Munich, and prior to Mr. Donilon's forthcoming February discussions in Moscow, I write seeking your assurance as to President Obama's plans for future potential U.S. arms reductions."
The National Security Staff and the Office of the Vice President declined to comment for this story and declined to offer any response to Rogers's letter.
Russia experts acknowledge that a new arms control agreement with Moscow will be difficult but say that the White House is committed to exploring whether it is possible. Obama is personally driving this policy and sees nuclear weapons reductions, as spelled out in his 2009 speech in Prague, as part of his legacy.
Voice of Russia, Interfax, foreignpolicy.com