Clinton Hints More Work Needed on Nuclear Reduction Treaty with Russia

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left a meeting with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov Thursday saying 'don't count your chickens' about a nuclear reduction treaty with Russia.

That final 5 percent sure seems to be causing a lot more trouble than anyone expected.

Last month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told journalists that negotiations to frame the first major post-cold war Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), begun between the US and Russia amid great optimism a year ago and slated to be finished by the end of 2009, were "95 percent complete."

But on Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emerged from a long afternoon of talks with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to say "don't count your chickens before they hatch," when asked when the treaty, intended to radically slash US and Russian offensive nuclear arsenals, would be ready for signing.

She added that negotiators have made "substantial progress" and said she hoped the document will be finalized soon.

Officials close to the talks say that Mr. Medvedev and President Barack Obama are hoping to close the deal in time for a 40-nation nuclear security summit that opens in Washington on April 12.

"The work may not be going as fast as expected, but there is a strong commitment on the part of both presidents to get it done" before the conference opens, says Mikhail Margelov, chair of the foreign affairs commission of the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament. "We're already preparing to move toward ratifying the treaty in parliament, after the presidents have signed it," he says.

On Friday, Mrs. Clinton is expected to sit down with Medvedev, and later with former president Vladimir Putin, for discussions in which START is expected to figure heavily.

Experts say that the treaty, which was intended to be the centerpiece of a reinvigorated US-Russian relationship, has been bogged down in quarreling over the issue of missile defense. Many hoped that issue had been laid to rest after Mr. Obama shelved a Bush-era plan to station antimissile interceptors in Poland last September.

The new deal would probably set a limit of 1,600 strategic warheads on each side, roughly a 25 percent reduction from current levels. That would be the smallest number of nuclear weapons that Russia and the US have aimed at each other - once known as the "balance of terror" - since the nuclear arms race got serious in the 1960s. …