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US Hopes to Renew Arms Program Despite Russian Objections

Soldiers prepare to destroy a ballistic SS-19 missile in the yard of the largest former Soviet military rocket base in Vakulenchuk, Ukraine, December 24, 1997.
The Obama administration says it retains hope of extending a landmark pact with Russia to secure and dismantle nuclear and chemical weapons in the former Soviet Union. The State Department praised the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program one day after the Russian government cast doubt on its renewal when it expires next year.

For 20 years, the United States and Russia have had a partnership to reduce stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union, and to make sure that remaining weapons do not fall into the wrong hands. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland says the U.S. values the program and believes it should continue.

“We believe there is a lot of future work for the U.S. and Russia to do together in the CTR [Cooperative Threat Reduction] space, including cooperation with third countries," she said. "The current agreement expires in June 2013. So in anticipation of that, we began talking to the Russian side about updating that agreement. And we are continuing to have those conversations.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday there would be no extension of the pact without a major overhaul. Analysts say, some two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian officials no longer believe U.S. funding and oversight of weapons disposal are needed or desired.

Nuland says the United States is not ruling out changes to the program.

“They [Russian officials] have told us that they want revisions to the previous agreement," she said. "We are prepared to work with them on those revisions, and we want to have conversations about it.”

At the same time, Nuland stressed that much has been accomplished under the pact, and more remains to be done.

“We have implemented security upgrades at Russia’s own nuclear storage sites," she said. "We have deactivated more than 7,500 nuclear warheads. We have neutralized chemical weapons, we have safeguarded fissile materials. We have converted weapons facilities into peaceful use facilities, and we have mitigated biological threats.”

The future of the pact is but one of many pressing issues between Washington and Moscow. Last month, Russia halted U.S. international development activities in the country, and Russia has long complained about U.S. efforts to build a missile defense system based in Europe.