9 Jul 2009

Former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott: The reset button should be pressed on both sides

Strobe Talbott, Deputy Secretary of State in Bill Clinton’s administration and now the head of the Brookings Institution, has given an interview to Interfax ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow due on June 6 – 8.

Talbott was one of the architects of the U.S. policy towards Russia and the CIS countries during Clinton’s administration. He heads the Brookings Institution, a leading think-tank in Washington, many of whose employees later received high-ranking positions in the U.S. State Department.

Question: One of the main subjects of the upcoming summit is an agreement to replace START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty]. What can we expect fr om the summit in terms of an agreement on START’s replacement? What is the level of the reductions of nuclear war heads that the United States may agree to?

Answer: The matter is, of course, still one for the negotiators to work on and for the governments to agree. But I can imagine a lim it of 1,500 warheads per side, and perhaps in a follow-on agreement 1,000 per side.

Q.: Prior to the summit Russia linked the agreement on strategic offensive weapons with the tough manner of the abandonment by the U.S. of its plans to place elements of ABM in Eastern Europe. Is there a room for compromise on this subject? How does the United States link an agreement on the reduction of the strategic offensive weapons with the solution of the Iranian nuclear problem?

A.: The linkage between strategic offensive reductions and regulation of strategic defenses is inextricable and rooted both in principles of stability and arms control history. At some point this will have to be addressed, now that arms control is once again an enterprise both governments treat seriously. How that will be done is unclear. So is the way in which the Central European deployments will be handled. My own view is that the NATO-Russia Council is an appropriate forum for cooperative defense. In any event, if the post-START treaty brings levels of offensive warheads down to 1,000 at some point, there will have to be parallel understanding on the regulation of defense.

Q.: Some experts believe that if the summit in Moscow will end up with nothing the positions of the liberals in Washington D.C. who wanted to push the reset button will be seriously weakened. And as a result Obama Administration will have no choice but take tougher position towards Moscow. Do you share those concerns?

A.: I find it unlikely that the Summit will be a bust - that is, that it will not produce any progress or momentum. As for the famous “reset" button, that has to be pressed on both sides.