WASHINGTON — Eight months, three presidential meetings, countless Geneva negotiating sessions and one missed deadline later, the United States and Russia appear close to agreement on a new arms control treaty that will reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals by at least one quarter.
But even if the two sides manage to bring home a deal in coming days as they hope, that will be the easy part. After President Barack Obama and President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia sign the new pact, they plan to send negotiators back to the table next year to pursue a far more ambitious agreement tackling whole categories of nuclear weapons never before subject to international limits.
In addition to further reducing deployed strategic warheads, the negotiations would try to empty at least some vaults now storing warheads in reserve. And the two sides would take aim at thousands of tactical nuclear bombs most vulnerable to theft or proliferation, some still located in Europe 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Obama and Medvedev hope to cut through the remaining obstacles to the agreement to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991, known as START, which expired Dec. 5.
The new version of START would require each side to reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads to roughly 1,600, down from 2,200, according to a senior U.S. official.