Russia and the Uniteds States have agreed to a work plan towards a new strategic arms reduction treaty, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Friday, March 6, after talks with her Russian counterpart.
"We intend to have an agreement by the end of the year," Clinton told a news conference after a working dinner with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva. "This is of the highest priority to our governments."
The so-called START treaty, which was signed in 1991, committed both parties to cut their stock of arsenal, including reducing missiles to a maximum of 1,600 and warheads to no more than 6,000.
Lavrov said the current START treaty, which is set to expire in December, had become obsolete and that he expected a new one to be completed on time.
No major decisions were expected to arise from the meeting with both sides hoping to set stage for President Barack Obama's first meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at an economic summit in England in early April.
At the start of the talks, Clinton presented Lavrov with a small box with a red button labelled "reset" in English -- a reference to a speech by new US Vice-President Joe Biden in January signaling the Obama administration's willingness to improve ties.
"We worked hard to get the right Russian word," Clinton said about the word "peregruzka" which was also displayed on the button. "Do you think we got it?"
"You got it wrong," Lavrov responded, as they both laughed and posed for photographers both holding the plastic button.
Lost in translation
Instead of using the Russian word for "reset" -- perezagruzka, the US translators chose the word "peregruzka," which means "overload" or "overcharge."
The White House is looking to put relations between the two countries on a more positive track through a package of proposals which include accelerated arms control talks and an appeal for help in stopping Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.
Clinton made the Obama administration's desire for a fresh start with Russia very clear, telling reporters at the European Parliament in Brussels on Thursday that "what we have to be is willing to vigorously press the differences that we have, while seeking common ground wherever possible."
New administration, new approach
To this end, the US Secretary of State had already exchanged letters with Lavrov over a wish to start a new chapter in ties.
And while the Bush administration sought to isolate Moscow when it invaded Georgia last year, Clinton declared that a freeze in communication with Russia is of little use. "I don't think you punish Russia by stopping conversations with them," she said.
The US and Russia had also clashed over a missile shield that Washington is planning in Europe and Clinton said she wanted to get talks with Russia over the matter on a "serious track."
In any case, one senior US official, who asked to be unidentified, thinks that now is the time for the US to make the most of the wave of goodwill that flowed from Obama's election.
"The new administration has much more political juice as it leans forward and tries to re-engage the Russians and because of that it will have much more political capital," the official said.
Clinton however also emphasized on Friday at the European Parliament that the Obama administration's push for better ties to Russia would not undermine US support for Europe.