The Obama administration, reversing the Bush administration's limited interest in nuclear disarmament, is gearing up for early negotiations with Russia on a new treaty that would sharply reduce stockpiles of nuclear warheads.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has notified Congress and her staff that she intends to get started quickly on talks with the Russians, who have voiced interest in recent weeks in settling on a new treaty calling for cutbacks in arsenals on both sides.
The 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty expires at the end of the year. It limited the United States and Russia to 6,000 nuclear warheads each. The American stockpile is believed to be about 2,300 warheads, and the Russians' even lower.
Clinton's spokesman, Robert Wood, said the new administration was serious about negotiating reductions in nuclear weapons. A replacement treaty for START "will be put on a fast track," Wood said.
President Barack Obama said during the campaign that he would seek verifiable reductions in all U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons. Clinton told Congress last month that deep reductions were the goal.
Clinton has told her staff she intends to get started quickly on talks with the Russians, said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the subject.
Some key arms control posts in the new administration have not been filled, however, and that might slow preparations for talks.
"I can't give you a time frame when we will be able to complete a review," Wood said in an interview Thursday. In that vein, he said, the administration was "clearly committed to reducing the numbers" but has not decided how deep to slash.
Internal talks on what position the U.S. should take in overall disarmament have begun within the State Department and with the White House, said officials aware of the discussions. Those discussions are expected to accelerate when the key posts are filled, said the officials, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly.
While the officials said they hoped the nomination process and Senate confirmation would not take long they did not know when the administration would be ready for talks with the Russians.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the private Arms Control Association, said "it appears that reductions down to 1,000 warheads are possible." That would be a cut of more than 50 percent on the U.S. side.
In 2002, President George W. Bush and Russian leader Vladimir Putin agreed on a treaty that sets as a target 1,700 to 2,000 deployed strategic warheads by 2012.
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