Why the United States and Russia Want a New Strategic Nuclear Weapons Treaty

The soon-to-expire, Cold War-era START 1 treaty set the basis for cuts in nuclear arsenals.

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The first-ever meeting next week between President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will likely "give a big boost" to bilateral efforts to develop a successor agreement to the landmark START I nuclear arms control accord, which expires this December, a senior U.S. official tells U.S. News. "We have quite a tight timeline," says the official.

The two presidents are expected to discuss the structure of further, more detailed discussions to draw up the new accord. The effort is considered critical because START I through its verification provisions underpin later, deeper cuts in nuclear arsenals that were agreed to by both sides.

The administration official says that the leaders would likely issue a joint statement on post-START principles, as well as broader principles for advancing the U.S.-Russian relationship. The meeting—in London on April 1 on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic summit—is not expected to produce "deliverables" in terms of finished accords; that is likely to be left for the two leaders' first full bilateral summit sometime in the future.

The London meeting is expected to last something more than an hour, but it is viewed with importance by the Obama administration. "There's a lot we can get done together," the official says, noting Russia's role in diplomatic efforts and/or practical logistics on such issues as supplying allied forces in Afghanistan and dealing with the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea.

Encouraging a full revival of NATO-Russian relations also will come up in the discussion.

More broadly, the official says that the Obama-Medvedev conversation would try to set the stage for correcting a problem from the recent past: Presidential-level meetings have been generally good, but they often did not lead to the intended improvement in relations. "What we haven't had is good kind of follow-through," the official says.