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
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