Six hours of talks between Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama in Copenhagen failed to clinch a new nuclear arms treaty between Russia and the United States, leaving officials scrambling to assert that a replacement for START-1 was still on the cards early in the New Year.
"Some technical details remain that require additional work," Medvedev said after the talks - held on the sidelines of the United Nations climate change summit, while Obama insisted the two sides had made "excellent progress" and were "quite close" to an agreement.
START-1 expired Dec. 5 without a replacement, posing awkward questions about weapons inspections.Talks led by Russian Foreign Ministry official Anatoly Antonov and US State Department official Rose Gottemoeller are expected to resume in January, "after a short Christmas break", RIA Novosti quoted presidential aide Sergei Prikhodko as saying.
But security experts wondered just how technical those kinks were.
Security expert Gennady Yevstafiyev, a former general in Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service who participated in talks on the 1991 Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, said that Russia was "doomed to sign the treaty" soon.
"There are three or four unresolved issues," said Yury Fedorov, a security analyst who is currently an associate fellow with the Czech Association for International Affairs. "And they can only be resolved through political decisions made by the presidents themselves."
Obama and Medvedev drew up guidelines for limiting the countries' nuclear arsenals in July, bringing the number of warheads down to between 1,500 and 1,675 (from 2,200 as specified by the original START-1). On the controversial issue of delivery vehicles, numbers were cut to a more vague 500 and 1,100 each.
The key issue is that Russia currently has only 600 delivery vehicles.
"What was under discussion is that this number should be about 800," Fedorov said, referring to an upper limit. "After July, it was decided that there should be an equal number. Russia's position was that America should minimise its delivery vehicles. The question is whether the negotiators agreed to a new number. If not, then it's up to the presidents."
Yevstafiyev said the discrepancy puts Russia at a disadvantage.
"[The Americans] are playing their game and they don't want to play any other way," he said. "Because Russia cannot maintain its nuclear arsenal on the levels that are currently being negotiated anyway."
Verification procedures are a big part of unresolved issues, with Russia still wary of letting US inspectors into their nuclear weapons sites.
US officials left Russia's largest missile plant in Votkinsk on Dec. 4, a day ahead of the treaty expiring. Their presence at the plant, checking all outgoing cargo, was "a source of permanent irritation for the Russians," Fedorov said. Any future monitoring process remains to be decided.
Contradictory reports came out of Geneva on Friday, with some Russian officials suggesting that Obama and Medvedev were expected to sign a new treaty, and others reporting that no such plans had been made. Fedorov blamed this on a moratorium on any information coming out of negotiations, due to the sensitive issue.
Yevstafiyev said Obama administration officials were under a lot of pressure from hawkish elements in Washington. "I know Rose Gottemoeller, I know [Anatoly] Antonov. They are nice people. But Rose can't jump over the [instructions] she has been given. She knows everything about us - she knows it better than we do."