US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev said they were optimistic, even as they conceded they were unlikely to sign a deal this year on a successor to an expired nuclear arms control treaty.
The two leaders met yesterday as negotiators seek to bridge differences on elusive details of a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start).
Mr Obama said they were “quite close”. He had wanted a new deal in place before the end of the year, but that appeared unlikely.
The hold up has denied the White House a quick boost in its efforts to demonstrate improved relations with Moscow. The Obama administration had identified a successor to the Start treaty as among the most achievable areas of cooperation with Russia, as it seeks broader help from Moscow on issues including reining in Iran’s suspected nuclear ambitions.
Although the 1991 Start treaty expired on December 5, both countries have agreed to continue to honour its main provisions, pending the completion and legal ratification of a successor treaty.
Emerging from private talks with Mr Medvedev on the sidelines of the UN climate conference in Copenhagen, Mr Obama expressed confidence that a successor pact will be agreed to in a “timely fashion”.
Mr Medvedev said technical details still needed to be worked out.
“We’ve been making excellent progress,” said Mr Obama.
US arms control advocates expressed disappointment.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the private Arms Control Association said: “The likely failure of the US and Russia to come to an agreement before the end of the year is deeply disappointing,” adding that both sides must show greater flexibility in order to resolve the few remaining issues.
US officials said negotiations had become hung up on a disagreement over how to monitor the development of new intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Signed by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and US President George Bush Snr, the Start treaty required each country to cut its nuclear warheads by at least one quarter, to about 6,000, and to implement procedures for verifying that each side was sticking to the agreement.
At a summit in Moscow last July, Mr Obama and Mr Medvedev agreed to cut the number of nuclear warheads on each side to between 1,500 and 1,675 within seven years, as part of a broad new treaty.