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January 13, 2010

START Talks to Resume, Despite Verification Hysteria
Posted by Kelsey Hartigan

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, Ellen Tauscher announced today that US and Russian negotiators will meet in Moscow this week and begin another formal round of START talks on Jan. 25 in Geneva.

Negotiators have kept a fairly tight lid on the details of the new agreement, which experts agree is standard protocol.  This secrecy has prompted some outsiders to erroneously suggest that the talks have gotten off track or that the negotiators will be unable to reach an agreement. According to the Global Security Newswire, however, “Tauscher confirmed reports that the deal is essentially complete but that some challenging treaty-verification issues remain unresolved.”

[Insert GOP hysteria here.]

The primary verification issues have surrounded telemetry—a data sharing verification provision that the Russian’s want to eliminate since the US isn’t testing new missiles—and concern over US missile defense programs. “While negotiations over this particular verification provision were left for last, telemetry is not necessarily more important than other points of disagreement that have already been resolved,” Tauscher told GSN. In part, the debate surrounding telemetry has been hyped because of alleged connections to US missile defense plans. Max Bergmann explains:

In other words, if telemetry is included, the Russians want to get something for it – and that something appears to be access to data on US missile defense tests. While US negotiators have been insistent that telemetry be included in a final agreement, they have also made clear that linking the START treaty to missile defense in any way is out of bounds for this treaty. Hence, the impasse.

The Cable quotes Tauscher as saying, "This agreement is about strategic offensive systems. Missile defense is a defense system.” That’s pretty clear cut:  not here, not now.  For those who are still quoting Putin, Kingston Reif rationalizes his remarks.

So what’s all the fuss about? Sure, telemetry is a difficult issue, but our negotiators know what they are doing and they’ve already successfully negotiated other tricky subjects. Furthermore, the US has made it clear that involving missile defense is a nonstarter.  Yet, the hysteria continues. That’s because the hubbub surrounding telemetry and missile defense has more to do with Jon Kyl and Co. attempting to derail Senate ratification than anything else.

Don’t let critics fool you. Verification issues will be worked out and a follow-on agreement will be reached. Mark my words.

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