MOSCOW — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said today that American and Russian negotiators are “on the brink” of agreement on a nuclear arms reduction treaty.
After meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Clinton said she expects a treaty-signing soon, although she mentioned no date or place.
“Our negotiating teams have reported that they have resolved all of the major issues and there are some technical issues that remain,” she said at a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
“But we are on the brink of seeing a new agreement between the United States and Russia,” Clinton added.
Her remarks were more pointedly optimistic than just a day earlier, when she cautioned against presuming success soon.
On another matter, Lavrov suggested that the issue of getting new United Nations sanctions imposed against Iran might not be as urgent as some have suggested.
He said the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, in its reports on Iran’s nuclear program, provides no basis for “alarm” about its intentions. He added that this did not mean that Russia is unconcerned about Iranian behavior, and he said Moscow believes sanctions may be unavoidable.
Lavrov said new sanctions must not be “aggressive,” and must not “degrade the humanitarian situation” inside Iran. Lavrov spoke in Russian and his remarks were translated by an official interpreter.
He also said the Iranian government was allowing to “slip away” an opportunity for mutually beneficial dialogue with the West.
Clinton said Washington was “pulling together the world” on sanctioning Iran.
On the matter of a new nuclear pact, Russian officials have said that a principal sticking point in the nuclear talks was the U.S. plan to build a defensive missile shield in eastern Europe.
Russia has insisted that the new treaty acknowledge a link between defensive and offensive systems, and Lavrov was quoted recently as saying that a legally binding provision would be included.
President Barack Obama and Medvedev agreed during their July summit that the new treaty would contain such a provision, but experts said that negotiations had bogged down over the language on the linkage.
Romania agreed in January to install anti-ballistic missile interceptors as part of the revamped U.S. missile shield, replacing the Bush administration’s plans for interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic.
Obama’s decision to scrap the Bush-era missile defense sites was praised last year by the Kremlin, which had fiercely opposed the earlier plan as a threat. But Russian officials have since expressed irritation over what they see as U.S. flip-flopping on the missile plans.
Experts have said the new plan is less threatening to Russia because it would not initially involve interceptors capable of shooting down Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missiles. But officials in Moscow have expressed concern that it is still designed against Russia.
Other problems in the talks are believed to concern monitoring and verification procedures. Obama and Medvedev agreed last summer that warheads should be capped at 1,500 to 1,675 from about 2,200 each side has now.