WASHINGTON — Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, co-creator of the program that’s helped Russia dismantle and secure large portions of its Soviet-era nuclear forces, strongly urged the Bush administration on Thursday to reconsider plans to end the treaty based system that allows Moscow and Washington to monitor each other’s nuclear arsenals.
“I'm concerned that transparency and verification will suffer if legally binding regimes are permitted to dissolve,” Lugar told Daniel Fried, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. “The predictability and confidence provided by treaty verification reduces the chances of misinterpretation, miscalculation and error.” He said that Russian-American relations were “complicated enough without introducing more elements of uncertainty into the nuclear relationship.”
Democrat Joe Biden, D-Del, chairman of the foreign relations committee, also sounded the alarm bell. “I think it would be the single greatest negative legacy this administration could leave if it leaves us in a situation where this is no future architecture to follow on to START,” he said.
Bush administration officials want to replace the complex verification system of the 1991 START treaty, which expires in 2009, with a more informal system. McClatchy reported in an exclusive story this week that talks between Moscow and Washington on a replacement accord have been delayed for three months by a dispute between Bush administration policymakers and U.S. intelligence officials.
The Indiana Republican said that weapons of mass destruction remain the No. 1 national security threat to both countries, and that “success in this area would enhance national security and improve the prospects of U.S.-Russian cooperation in other policy areas.”
The intelligence agencies want to retain the current verification system because it gives them a window on Russia’s weapons. Some administration officials want the binding verification measures lifted so that the United States can do such things as replace nuclear warheads with conventional warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Lugar spoke during a Senate hearing on preparations for the talks between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 1 and 2.
Fried said the administration wanted to maintain transparency and predictability.
“There are discussions going on with the Russians now about how to do that,” he said. “There are a range of options, some more formal and elaborate and others, but we certainly do want to have a predictable and confidence-building post-START regime."