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Media Conference Call: The Obama-Medvedev Summit

Speakers: Charles Ferguson, Philip D. Reed Senior Fellow for Science and Technology, Council on Foreign Relations, and Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Presider: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, Council on Foreign Relations
June 30, 2009
Council on Foreign Relations



BERNARD GWERTZMAN:  Greetings.  I'm happy to have all you people online.  This is a conference call, of course, on the upcoming summit meeting in Moscow between President Obama and President Medvedev with, it looks like, Prime Minister Putin also taking part.

The speakers today are Charles Ferguson, who's a senior -- Philip Reed senior fellow for science and technology, and Stephen Sestanovich, the George F. Kennan senior fellow for Russian and Eurasian studies.

I'd like to start by just asking Steve, why a summit now?

STEPHEN SESTANOVICH:  Well, Bernie, the Obama administration has said that it wanted to "press the reset button" on the Russian-American relationship.  And an early summit, notably before going, for example, to Beijing or Tokyo, is a way of showing what that "reset" is going to mean in practice.  There's been heavy use of that metaphor, but until now not too much clarity about exactly what the reality of a new relationship is going to be.

That makes this trip a little different from some of the ones that Obama has taken up to now in his -- in his presidency.  When he traveled to Europe, he was basically asking for support for American policy in dealing with the international economic crisis, in Afghanistan.  When he went to Cairo he was describing a kind of strategic reorientation in American thinking about relations with the Islamic world.  

This trip involves an extra dimension for him, which is practical negotiation.  And that's likely to get a lot of attention in judging the results.  Does he come away with specific agreements, in particular an arms control agreement, or not?  That's not something that has been a measure of the success of his -- of his trips until now.  It's likely to get the lion's share of attention on this one.

GWERTZMAN:  Well, Charles, you're the expert here on nuclear technology and nuclear nonproliferation.  It's a little early in the administration.  Do you expect any hard and fast agreements or agreements in principles on renewing the START agreement, which expires in the end of the year?

CHARLES D. FERGUSON:  Well, Bernie, because the START agreement is going to expire in early December, that's one of the main motivations to have this summit here in -- you know, coming in early July -- as you point out, it's still early in the -- President Obama's term -- but because there are relatively few months left to have a follow-on START agreement.  And we have Senator Richard Lugar, who is leading Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying that if the president wants the Senate to fully consider a follow-on START treaty, he needs to get that type of treaty to the Senate pretty soon, within the next couple of months, ideally, because of the nature of the congressional schedule.

And I would just caution us that we should not expect great things coming out of this summit.  The watchwords are expectation management.  I think the -- success from the point of President Obama would be at least two things.  One, an agreement to extend the provisions of the START Treaty that really matter to the United States -- these are transparency provisions that allow a data exchange between the two countries so that each side knows what the strategic weapons distribution and status is in each country.  That's vitally important.  That is great intelligence.  And it would cost us a lot of money to try to get that intelligence if we didn't have this agreement.  That's number one.

Number two is at least a modest agreement on the part of the Russians to go down to, you know, some level of strategic arms that are lower than what President Bush got with President Putin back in 2002 and the Treaty of Moscow.  And that treaty set a limit of 1,700 to 2,200 strategically deployed warheads on each side and allowed each side a lot of flexibility.  And there really aren't any hard and fast verification requirements in that treaty.  

And what we're trying to do now is something more ambitious, to try to get the Russians to agree to a formal treaty, a legally binding treaty.  And in the past, we've seen that those endeavors can take a long time.  It took upwards of six years to conclude the original START Treaty.  And President Obama, I think, wants to speed it up a lot more than that.  So I think that's why let's -- that -- what we're trying to do now is trying to get down to a level of maybe 1,500 warheads on each side.  And there's going to be a lot of wrangling about what does that really mean; how do you count those warheads?  And there are various ways you could do it.  And that's going to probably take up a lot of the negotiations between now and the end of the year.

GWERTZMAN:  Before I turn it over to our audience out there, I just wanted to get some sense of the atmosphere.  At the end of the George Bush administration, relations were pretty tense; in part, aggravated by the Russian invasion of Georgia.  And a lot of harsh words went back and forth.  NATO and Russia essentially broke off relations.  Have things calmed down now?  Are relations -- are the vibes coming from Moscow more friendly or what?  Steve?

SESTANOVICH:  Well, Bernie, a lot of the atmospherics are somewhat better.  The sort of immediate disagreements over issues like NATO expansion or the Georgia war are reduced because NATO has put Georgian and Ukrainian membership on a slower -- on a slower track.  The war is over and there's not much to be done about the fact that the Russians haven't complied with the cease-fire agreement.

The big issue that was contentious during the Bush administration is still potentially a big problem.  Charles mentioned some of it, technical issues of reducing strategic offensive forces.  But what has really agitated the Russians is -- and they keep coming back to this -- is the American plan to deploy some rather basic elements of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.  And what we don't know about the -- about the negotiations right now is whether the Russians are going to insist on some kind of formal link between an agreement to expand START I and some kind of understanding about missile defense.

Medvedev last week said, yeah, of course we want to go below -- below the numbers of the Moscow Treaty reached by Bush and Putin in 2001 -- or 2002.  And they've already agreed to that in their -- in their meeting in London in April.  But other Russians have said that there can't be an agreement unless there's also a formal renunciation by the U.S. of some of its missile defense plans.  That's rather unlikely to happen.  And if the Russians stick to that line, the chances of an arms control agreement are much less.

GWERTZMAN:  Charles, on that same subject, and then we'll turn it over to the audience.  What's your sense from talking to people in this administration -- how wedded are they to the agreement to deploy these missiles in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic?  I know Obama on his campaign had said that he was not that enthusiastic about the plan; he wanted to see if it worked, et cetera.  So what's your sense of it?

FERGUSON:  I don't think they're that enthusiastic.  And the people I've talked to I think show a flexibility.  They realize that trade-offs may need to be made in order to get the kind of agreement that Steve is talking about.

And I think really the crucial matter here is our security commitments to Poland and the Czech Republic.  The Polish government in particular maybe is not that interested in missile defense, per se, but they're interested in the linkage that missile defense represents for the United States' commitment to Poland.  

And, you know, that gets into this touchy issue of, you know, NATO enlargement.  You know, the U.S. brought in a number of Eastern European countries, including Poland.  Now, you know, what's next?  What's the next wave?  And of course, that's the gorilla in the living room.  I think it's not so much missile defense, because I think the Russians understand -- at least their technical experts understand -- that the missile defense system being contemplated in the United States is relatively weak compared to what the Russians have in terms of a strategic deterrent.  So it's not going to eviscerate the Russian deterrent anytime soon or in the next several years, even, if it's deployed.


SESTANOVICH:  Let me add one thing to that, Bernie.


SESTANOVICH:  The administration has got a review of its policy on missile defense under way, not completed.  And that makes it a little more difficult for them to reach any specific understandings with the Russians about this issue.  They can offer certain kinds of assurances, but the issue for the Russians is whether they want to -- whether they are going to be satisfied with that, whether they want to demand more.

I'm told that in the run-up to the London meeting between Obama and Medvedev, the Russians had been pushing for some more formal assurances.  And when they didn't get them, they backed off.  The question about the Moscow summit is, will that pattern be repeated, or are they prepared to slow the process of negotiation even on the offensive issues down because they're not satisfied on defense?

GWERTZMAN:  Okay.  I'm ready to open it up to our participants.  

OPERATOR:  At this time, we'll open the floor for questions.  If you would like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by the 1 key on your touchtone phone now.  Questions will be taken in the order that -- which they are received.  If at any time you would like to remove yourself from the questioning queue, press star-2.

Our first question comes from Erik Wasson, with Inside U.S. Trade.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  I'm sorry if this was addressed already.  I came on to the conference call a few minutes late.  I'm very interested in the process of Russian WTO accession, and Russia's recent announcement that it would want to restart the process and accede as a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan.  How do you see -- what do you see as the reasons for that?  And do you see it being part of this overall negotiation with START and arms and other things?  Is it playing in that way?

Thanks very much.


SESTANOVICH:  It's a really important issue and, oddly enough, has in some ways gotten more attention than any other issue in Russia in the run-up to the summit.  Some Russians see it as a message from Putin to the American government, saying, I'm the decider and I can, at any time, make a decision to overrule anything else that's been going on in our -- in our negotiations, if I'm not satisfied.

What Putin did was, as you say, to pull back Russia's membership application to the WTO and say that they would join together with Belarus and Kazakhstan as a customs union, something for which there's no provision in WTO procedures.  He did this after there had been a lot of progress in the discussions and many Russian and American officials thought that accession was just a matter of weeks, possibly a couple of months away.  So it came just as there was a success, not because there had been any setbacks.  

And for many Russian economic policymakers, this is a terrific disappointment, because it meant Russia -- it seemed to suggest that Russia was pulling back from integration into the international economy, repudiating the idea of rules-based participation in international markets.  And it's created a terrific stir in Russia.  Some Russians have said, you know, one of the worst decisions of the past several years.

It may not be addressed directly in -- or resolved in the bilateral discussion, but there is a parallel meeting of American and Russian businessmen going on at the same time that Obama is in Moscow.  And there will be -- and Obama is apparently going to participate in some of these meetings.  You can be sure that this issue will come up -- will be raised by both American and Russian businessmen.  And the bulk of the interventions will be hostile to what -- to what Russia has done, although there are plenty of Russian businessmen who will say, you know, who needs the WTO?

Bottom line, this was supposed to be an issue on which the two leaders could celebrate some success.  It's now turned into a big downer.

GWERTZMAN:  Is this a slap in the face at Medvedev, who's been a big exponent of the WTO?

SESTANOVICH:  Well, Putin himself has favored accession and reached an agreement with Bush on it two and a half years ago.


SESTANOVICH:  But with the economic downturn, there has been more of a call for protectionism in Russia, as in many other countries.  Some people say what the Russians want to do is slap on a lot of new protectionist policies that would not have been allowed under the accession agreement as reached and then go back and resume negotiations with their new protectionist policies grandfathered in.  

But apart from the economic policy issues involved, you're right, Bernie, that many Russians and some Americans are interpreting this as part of the jockeying between Medvedev and Putin.


OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Jill Dougherty with CNN.

QUESTIONER:  Yes, thank you very much.  I wanted to go back to the missile defense link to START.  Some people are saying that it's the usual Russian approach of tough negotiating right up until the end.  Do you think that they are posturing or do they really want to formally link missile defense and START?  

And then also, what position does it put Obama in?  Because, after all, you know, the question could be, could he look weak with the Russians if he temporized or kind of held back on missile defense?  I'm just interested in the kind of dilemma that Obama might be in.

GWERTZMAN:  Charles?

FERGUSON:  Well, I'm reminded of a famous Reykjavik summit between President Reagan and Gorbachev and --

GWERTZMAN:  I was there.

SESTANOVICH:  I was there, too.  (Laughs.)  

FERGUSON:  I was in the Navy at the time, and so -- (laughs) -- so it was the Cold War era back then.  And, you know, Reagan, like Obama, has -- had the vision of a nuclear-weapon-free world.  He really believed it.  So did Gorbachev.  But the -- you know, the sticking point was missile defense.  And it was a -- as we know, was a grander missile defense system being contemplated back then, a strategic defense initiative, so-called "Star Wars."  Now what we're looking at is a much smaller, much more modest missile defense system.  

As I said earlier, there's really no technical reason for the Russians to be worried at this stage about the missile defense as it's currently proposed.  But, you know -- you know, if they're reading what a lot of independent American scientists would say -- there are some of my colleagues who say that this is just the foot in the door.  It could lead to a much more ambitious missile defense program in the future.  And if we imagine that the two presidents are successful in getting an agreement to move much lower in strategic arms, the question is, how low can you go and still have confidence you have nuclear deterrence, with a missile defense system that could be growing in the future?

So I think in terms -- it depends on your time line.  If it's just something in the next few years, in terms of the missile defense plans and going to the next stage of a follow-on START agreement, which would probably be pretty modest, I don't think there's really a serious impediment here unless, as you say, it's the Russian tendency to keep, you know, bluff and bluster up until the last moment, saying, oh, this will not do and we need, you know -- you know, more from the other side.  But it could also be a serious consideration on the part of Russian military planners looking 10, 20 years down the road and asking, where will our strategic forces and missile defenses be at that time?


SESTANOVICH:  And let me just add a couple of quick points here.  The budgetary realities are very important.  And the Russians have been able to read the presentation made by Secretary Gates, General O'Reilly, who's the head of the missile defense program.  And they can see that the United States military is pulling back from a big investment in military -- in missile defense.

Secondly, it's not just that the Russians may be posturing or are internally divided about how to handle this military -- this missile defense issue.  In addition, there are plainly Russian bureaucratic institutional and political interests that oppose agreement with the United States and oppose improvement in Russian-American relations.  

This is not a secret.  It's kind of openly discussed in the Russian media and by Russian political analysts.  There are forces that are uncomfortable with the idea of restoring a cooperative Russian-American relations and are more comfortable with a contentious one.  The Russian military, I'd point out, had its budget go up 500 percent under Putin.  They may wonder whether they will continue to have the resources they'd like if relations with the United States get better.

A final point.  Jill, you raise an interesting question.  How do President Obama and his advisors game the political benefits of having an agreement or not.  Certainly, the president doesn't want to look as though he accepts an agreement that is basically on Russian terms.  They may see some advantages in walking away from an agreement that doesn't look advantageous for the United States or simply walking away from an agreement in order to convey that the president is a tough guy who defends American interests and, after all -- and by the way, we can negotiate the -- go back to the negotiating table before the end of the year and come up with an agreement anyway.

GWERTZMAN:  Well, it'll be interesting to watch.  Next?  

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Heidi Brown with Forbes.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  This has been really interesting. I wanted to just ask you to look a little bit more broadly at Russian.  With oil prices now, you know, having come down from their highs and I'm hearing from contacts over there that sort of a stagnation of sorts has set in in Russia, I'm just wondering if you could talk about what's left for Russia and its geopolitical influence around the world as they approach this START Treaty negotiation.  Thank you.


SESTANOVICH:  Well, the issue of oil prices is always important to Russian politics and Russian foreign policy, and never more so than now.  But it may not be right to -- just to focus on the comparison between last year and this year.  If you do that, oil prices look down.  If you look at where they were at the beginning of the year and where they are now, they're up, and a lot of Russians say that's had an effect on the Russian debate.  

When oil prices go from 35 (dollars) to 70 (dollars), they say a lot of the heat comes out of the debate about how Russia can modernize its economy, how to diversify, how to free it up, how to create innovation and so forth.  And people begin to rely again on the idea of a petro economy that's kept afloat by energy revenues.  So that there is now a kind of rear guard action being taken by people who thought that really low oil prices were going to force modernization and reform.  Now they're saying we can't afford to be satisfied with this increase in energy prices.  We've got to do better.  We have to diversify the economy.  We have to modernize, or else we will simply be left behind, stagnating as you say, over the long term.  

How do the Russians feel about their geopolitical position?  They are in many ways still reaping the benefits, as they see it, of Russia's comeback in this decade compared to the last.  When Medvedev was in Africa last week, he talked about how in the '90s Russia wasn't able to look beyond its own neighborhood to preserve its relations with Africa, Latin America, and now it's actively doing that.  So they see a certain kind of enlargement of their horizon and possibilities.

Just yesterday, Medvedev was in Azerbaijan and signed an agreement on energy cooperation which was a kind of sign that they're not out of the game in their relations with their neighbors either but are able to, you know, advance their interests and maintain their domination -- or at least that's the way some Russians would like to interpret it.

They see a pretty mixed picture overall over the past couple of years in their international position.  Their economy has taken a massive hit, maybe one of the most serious of any large economy.  On the other hand, they still feel far ahead of where they used to be.

GWERTZMAN: On that same subject, let me just intersperse a question.  What are Russia's relations with Georgia and Ukraine right now?  They've had tensions now for many months.

SESTANOVICH:  Well, their relations with both are difficult in some respects.  They continue to demonize President Saakashvili of Georgia, and there's no end in sight to that confrontation.  They have after all recognized parts of Georgia as sovereign state and are occupying them.  So that's a little bit of friction.


SESTANOVICH: With Ukraine, it's a bit more complicated.  They have bad relations with President Yushchenko, but he's a much weakened political figure.  Their relations with the two dominant political forces in Ukraine, Prime Minister Tymoshenko and the leader of the Regions Party, the former Prime Minister Yanukovich, those are both more promising, although energy remains a contentious issue with them.


OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Eric Avesar(?) with Market News.

QUESTIONER:  Hi, guys.  Steve, could you all please spell out your last name for me.

SESTANOVICH: Sestanovich, S-e-s-t-a-n-o-v-i-c-h.

QUESTIONER:  Okay.  Thank you.  Yeah, my question is involving economic relations, and I'm hearing that improved U.S.-Russian relations will, you know, take time.  But to go along with their need for a renewal of START, could you guys talk about the need for improved economic relations as well because, you know, the U.S. had "Buy American provisions" in the Recovery Act and Russia has a movement for protectionist measures as well.  So how important is it for President Obama and Medvedev and Putin to come to some sort of consensus on avoiding those kinds of protectionist measures?


SESTANOVICH:  Well, it's important.  There are protectionist lobbies in both countries, but I wouldn't exaggerate the impact of that on trade, which is booming.  I don't have the annual increases, but over the past several years trade has tripled, and the -- you know, there have been significant increases both in American imports from Russia and exports to Russia, and particularly in one area that has been politically contentious, and that is meat exports from the United States.


SESTANOVICH:  Those have soared in the past two or three years.  So the complaint that you hear from our chicken and pork exporters are a complaint about a trend line that is nevertheless sharply upward.  If there's -- moreover, you will see next week that a lot of American companies are prepared to take a bet on Russia's future, and there will be announcements of significant investment in Russia.  

If there's a big problem for Russian-American economic relations, it's probably not protectionism but anxiety about the rule of law.  You have continuing difficulties for Western companies operating in Russia.  

Just a couple of weeks ago, a Norwegian that is a major shareholder in a Russian telecommunications company had its shares seized by the state, and they began to sell them off -- a pretty egregious case of abuse of shareholder rights.  It's that kind of uncertainty about their ability to get a fair deal in Russian courts or in dealing with the Russian bureaucracy that leaves many western businessmen to hesitate as they consider investment in Russia, and that's probably the single biggest obstacle that the Russian and American businessmen will be talking about next week at their parallel business summit.


OPERTOR:  Our next question comes from Will England (sp) with the National Journal.  

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  I'd like to get back to the timing of this summit, and also a very quick follow-up question, if I might, after that.  The negotiations on the new strategic arms treaty are underway at the moment, and I'm wondering a little bit about what more precisely the two presidents are getting together to talk about and to try to accomplish.  They're not going to come away with a finished treaty; I'm sure of that.  So if you could address that I would be very interested in that.  

And then a very quick follow up is the business with the airfield in Kyrgyzstan.  The Russians were reportedly first upset about the U.S. regaining its rights there, but now they're supporting that, and I wonder if you have any insights into what's going on with that.

GWERTZMAN:  Charles.

FERGUSON:  Right.  The first question, I think you're right.  I don't think it's the job of the presidents to hammer out the details of the follow-on treaty, but I think that having them meet and put their seal of approval on taking the next step -- and, as I said earlier, a modest step, probably down to 1,500 strategic warheads on each side -- and really the devil's in the details.

What does that really mean?  How are you going to count those warheads?  Just to remind ourselves, all the previous arms control treaties with Russia have not involved actually verifying the dismantlement or the reductions in actual nuclear warheads.  Instead, the treaties have involved reductions in weapon delivery systems: bombers, submarines, missiles, those big things that you can see easily from satellites and verify whether a bomber has been cut up or not, for example.

Now, what we're trying to do in a follow-on treaty -- probably not this follow-on treaty, but next year and the year after that, probably occupying the remainder of the president's term, would be to try to get a very meaningful agreement that would lead to irreversible dismantlement of a whole class of warheads.

Now, that's never been done before.  There was some work done on that in the late 1990s and I think the presidents may talk about trying to get interest going again in that particular area.

GWERTZMAN:  And the follow-up question was --

QUESTIONER:  About Kyrgyzstan.


SESTANOVICH:  I had just one further point on what they could do next week.  They may or may not have a piece of paper that they may or may not call a framework agreement, which will have some of the key parameters -- agreed or not agreed -- or a treaty that would be reached by the fall, by the end of the year.  

And it's not so uncommon in arms negotiation to have some of the key issues left for resolution by the leaders, to show that they're active participants in the process.  But I think there is actually some genuine uncertainty in this case as to whether or not the two sides can agree on what's in the framework agreement, whether it has that label or not, and what's not in it.

About Kyrgyzstan, the Russians were of course gloating in February when they got the announcement by the Kyrgyzs that they would terminate American and NATO access to the Manas base.

They said at the time it of course was not the result of their $2 billion offer, but in the interim, the Kyrgyzs, as they have been known to do, went back to the United States, and the U.S. came to them and they were very receptive to discussing whether the terms of American and NATO access might be improved.  And, sure enough, those terms were improved.

And the Russians decided not to fight it too hard.  I think that's probably the fair way of putting it.  Had they chosen to fight it really hard they might have been able to get the Kyrgyzs to agree, but it would have been at the price of a pretty significant loss of American goodwill because it would have been a much more open declaration of war on the American effort in Afghanistan.  And how valuable can that really be to them?

GWERTZMAN:  All right, next?

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Marichia Molinari (sp) with Las Pampas (sp).

QUESTIONER:  Thank you very much.  During the recent meeting at the White House with the Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi and Barack Obama, Berlusconi said that Italy could play a particular role between the U.S. and Russia in terms of -- (inaudible) -- nature of the summit in -- (inaudible) -- 2001, and so on and so on.

Do you believe that this possibility does exist?  I mean, Italy, as president of the G-8, can help somehow to put Russia and U.S. together.




GWERTZMAN:  Charles, do you differ?

FERGUSON:  Well --

SESTANOVICH:  Let me add one other thing.  I think it does matter what kind of unity the U.S. has with its European allies in the approach that they take toward Russia.

The Russians would of course like to have individual countries with whom they have closer relations -- Italy is one; Germany might be another -- acting as advisors and intermediaries to promote a reconfigured relationship with the United States.

The way the United States tends to see this, although not always to act on it, is that the most effective relationship with Russia is going to be one that's based on consensus between the United States and Europe and not one in which the Russians are able to pick off individual countries.

As you know, Russia has tended to see Italy as a comparatively weak link in addressing a lot of their grievances vis-a-vis the United States and Europe, and they've seen Berlusconi in particular as a kind of promising advocate for their point of view.

So I'm not surprised that Prime Minister Berlusconi said what he said in the White House, but there are not all that many European countries that would like to have relations with Russia set by the terms that Italy prefers.  And I think the United States also is not so comfortable with that idea either.  

And I say that, you know, recognizing that basically the U.S.-Italian relationship is good and there are many common interests, but for a number of years the United States and Italy have not seen Russia in exactly the same way.


OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Jonathan Chait with the National Magazine.

QUESTIONER:  Hello.  My question is the current Moscow Treaty parameters specify 1,700 to 22,000.  Fifteen-hundred isn't a very great reduction in those terms.  I'm just wondering, what problems begin to arise if the numbers were to fall below that?  

In other words, what's the floor here?  What are the problems in going down -- I know that the figure of a thousand was often mentioned and then suddenly 1,500 became the word that was used.  So I just wonder what problems lie in the way of going below 1,500.

GWERTZMAN:  Charles?

FERGUSON:  Well, thanks, Jonathan, for the question.  I should have mentioned earlier that one of the issues that we have to deal with here on the American side is the fact that the Nuclear Posture Review is going on at the same time that the United States is trying to negotiate this follow-on agreement with Russia.

And so that's created some internal tensions within the U.S. bureaucracy, where there has been talk about do we have an interim Nuclear Posture Review that somehow puts its seal of approval on the 1,500 level.  And I think that's one internal reason why the U.S. isn't really pushing hard to go below 1,500.

But to get at your question, why can't we go to a thousand or even deeper cuts, there are a number of reasons that are holding that back.  Steve and I both touched on missile defense.  There are concerns on the Russian side about prompt global strike conventional weapons.  

I think we're going to need a U.S.-Russian agreement in terms of kind of limiting those types of weapons, not eliminating them, where to the U.S. making sure that they have enough of those type of weapons to deal with terrorist threats but not enough of those kind of weapons to pose a serious threat to the Russian nuclear deterrent.  So that's one sticking point.

Another point is the fact that once you get down to about a thousand warheads and the Russian-American sides, then other countries look like peer competitors in the nuclear realm.  We're uncertain as to where China is headed in terms of its gradual nuclear development.  There's still uncertainties even about India, where it may be headed, or Pakistan, where it may be headed.

If you look at the stockpiles of fissile material the various countries could turn into weapons, then it looks like the other countries could, in some sense, begin to compete with Russia and the United States in the nuclear area.  So I think that's in the back of people's minds as well.  

I'm reminded, when I got into this area of work in the 1990s I did a study, looking at counterforce and counter value targeting, and that if you can get to a thousand warheads on each side, and depending on the disposition of the forces -- you know, what missiles they're on or what delivery platforms -- that in effect you can break what a lot of people fear is this hair-trigger alert scenario where one side would -- you know, it's an either use it or lose it type of scenario so that you can break this counter-force targeting, and that might open the door for even deeper cuts.  But I think that's still a long way in the future.


SESTANOVICH:  Just one last thing to add to that --


SESTANOVICH:  -- because that's a very complete answer.  There is the issue of the triad.  The shape of both the Russian and American strategic nuclear forces is kind of the same, even though the size is less than it was during -- as it was during the Cold War.  That is, land-based missiles, nuclear submarines and bomber aircraft.  

The lower you go, the tougher it is for planners to figure out a force that would maintain the triad, where you'd still have some bombers, submarines and land-based missiles.  As the -- you know, as the relationship goes forward it may become easier for each side, or both, to rethink the shape of its forces.  

FERGUSON:  Bernie, just quickly; I've been remiss.  I should be plugging a council publication because just last month we published the independent task force report on U.S. nuclear weapons policy, chaired by Brent Scowcroft and Bill Perry, and I was the project director.  

That's available on our website.  And we have a chapter in that report on the U.S.-Russia nuclear relationship, and we have a number of recommendations along the lines that Steve and I have been discussing.

GWERTZMAN:  Okay, next?

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Vladimir Tigula (ph) with the Russian News Agency.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  One of you mentioned so-called expectation management before Moscow summit.  Does it mean that Moscow Obama and Medvedev summit agenda should not be loaded with too many questions, too many issues, and the two sides should focus on START renewal and other arms control issues and not to let themselves be distracted by other questions?

FERGUSON:  What I meant by expectation management was more narrowly focused on the nuclear strategic question.  There has been a lot of talk and debate, especially in the United States in foreign policy circles, of calling for a sweeping agreement to go very deep in terms of nuclear arms reductions.

And, in that sense, expectations are running very high.  And so I was just cautioning us, because of the various impediments that Steve and I have been discussing, that I think it's unrealistic to expect to go, you know, lower than 1,500 strategic warheads on each side, depending on how that's defined or counted.

So that's basically what I was getting at in terms of that.  But then you also raised an important point, and I think the two of us have been talking about this.  

There are a lot of cross-sectoral issues that interconnect to the nuclear question -- things from WTO and energy and Russia's geopolitical concerns.  And maybe Steve can talk to that.

SESTANOVICH:  I think the --

GWERTZMAN:  At this point I'd like to interject a question, which I forgot all about asking.  What about Iran?  I mean, clearly Iran's been in the news.  The Russians early on recognized the re-election of President Ahmadinejad.  The U.S. would very much like Russian cooperation on putting more pressure on Iran, on its nuclear program.  Where do we stand on that?  Will that be a key issue at the summit, do you think?

SESTANOVICH:  Bernie, you're absolutely right to raise this.  And it is one of the other issues on a relatively loaded agenda that Obama and Medvedev will be addressing.

Yes, the Russians said some critical things, joining with European and American officials, about the Iranian treatment of demonstrators.  But they've been more cautious on the issue of the election itself.  And the key issue for the United States for some time has been whether Russia would agree to join in tougher sanctions on Iran if its nuclear program goes forward.

Similarly, there are other issues like transport of equipment through Russia to Afghanistan.  There are going to be, as mentioned, economic issues addressed.  There will be discussion of the greater Middle East.  This is an agenda that is pretty heavily loaded, not just because the administration wants to find other issues to talk about besides arms control, but because the relationship is one that has a lot of moving parts.  And no president can go to Moscow and pretend that he's reviewed the whole relationship unless he addresses all of those issues too.

I might add one other one, though, which we haven't talked about, and that has been a theme for Obama going back to the campaign, and that is how he connects with Russian civil society.  President Bush made democracy at least a rhetorical sticking point in the relationship, or did on a few occasions.

Obama has to figure out how to talk about the issue of Russia's internal political evolution.  He has hinted at that in his meeting -- at how he would do it in his meeting in London with President Medvedev when he raised the question of a beating the day before of a famous human rights activist.  He's going to have meetings in Moscow, it appears, with representatives of civil society.

GWERTZMAN:  He's going to speak at a higher institution.

SESTANOVICH:  He's going to give a commencement address at the New Economic School.  He will meet with leaders of the political opposition.  All of these events are meant to convey an interest in connecting with elements of Russian society and the political scene other than the government itself.

GWERTZMAN:  Next question?  We're running toward the end.

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Ty Jacobson (sp) of the Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you, gentlemen, for taking the time today.

My questions focuses also on the relationship between missile defense and START negotiations.  There's been some speculation that the Obama administration may have overplayed its hand slightly and, you know, has really pushed for reductions and might need them more or want them more than the Russian side, and in turn that could cause, you know, them to maybe be painted into a corner on giving up, you know, something on missile defense.

I was wondering, Charles specifically, if you share that or if you have any comments on that idea.

FERGUSON:  Well, it's an interesting question, and it allows me to bring in another nuclear issue that we haven't talked about, and that's tactical nuclear weapons.  I should say so-called tactical nuclear weapons.  Sometimes people call them non-strategic.  And it really gets at why are we trying to get this agreement with the Russians?  Is it because we fear a nuclear war between the United States and Russia?  No, not really.  Is it that, you know, we're going to save a lot of money by reducing strategic arms?  The United States, not really; the Russians, yeah, they could save some money.  That motivates them.

But I think what really is driving especially President Obama is the view that the United States and Russia need to do this to show leadership in order to get greater action among other states to deal with the two nuclear threats that worry us the most -- nuclear proliferation to other states and terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons and nuclear materials.

And as we know, there's a huge stockpile of weapons-usable nuclear material in Russia.  I think there would be strong interest in trying to negotiate a follow-on agreement through what's called the megatons, the megawatts agreement between the United States and Russia.

The Russians are now providing one-half of our nuclear fuel for our nuclear reactors, and that's going to run out in 2013.  So I think hopefully in the back of President Obama's mind is the desire to try to extend that agreement or at least, you know, get some kind of agreement with the Russians in terms of the nuclear fuel market, because the Russians play a tremendous role in that market.  So that's one issue.

But getting back to tactical nuclear weapons, I think if we can get an agreement on the strategic arms, that might give us a foot in the door to get a more meaningful agreement on dealing with some of these other arms that worry us even more, so-called tactical nuclear arms, the ones that tend to be more portable, that might be more accessible to terrorists.

Now, the reason that the Russians want to cling to their tactical nuclear arms is the fact that there's a huge asymmetry between the conventional military forces.  And that gets to another issue we haven't even addressed, which is conventional forces in Europe, a CFE type of an agreement.  And that's probably going to be at the -- I don't know if it's going to be -- (inaudible) -- summit, but it's something that also acts as an impediment to further nuclear arms reductions on the Russian side.

So as you can tell, and as Steve said, there are a lot of moving parts here.  I think that's why I keep coming back to this theme of expectation management.  I think, in this first major summit between the two presidents, we're probably not going to get a sweeping grand deal, but I think we can take at least a modest step forward in dealing with nuclear arms.

SESTANOVICH:  There's one other issue to mention here that has to do with who needs the agreement more.  The Russians seem to think that Obama, having talked about a nuclear-free world in his Prague speech, and having laid out an ambitious agenda of arms control, must want a START treaty extension more than they do and that they can play on that to get concessions that are desirable for them.  There's something to that.

On the other side, there is the reality that the Russians are more concerned than the United States about maintaining nuclear parity.  Their own forces are headed downward in terms of size.  Some sophisticated Russian analysts will tell you that, as they see it, the real issue is whether they can get the United States to go down with them.

If you look at it from that point of view, the Russians probably need the agreement more than the United States.  So the advantages for the Russians in Obama's eagerness to have an agreement are probably no greater than the American advantages, given the Russians' desire to keep up and maintain parity with the U.S.

GWERTZMAN:  I guess we have time for maybe one more question.

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Ben Feller with the Associated Press.

QUESTIONER:  Hi.  Thanks, gentlemen.  I'm going to try to make this a quick two-parter.

One, following up on Iran, you touched upon the relationship between Iran and Russia.  Could you elaborate a little bit more about what you think President Obama will be looking for from Russia at the summit on Iran?

And secondly, could you also follow up on the jockeying you mentioned between Medvedev and Putin?  What exactly is President Obama inheriting here in terms of who's in charge of that country?  Thank you.


SESTANOVICH:  On Iran, you know, a lot of the discussion may be on points that we don't hear much about.  If there's an agreement about new sanctions, I'd be surprised if it's really discussed openly at the summit.  But there are some elements of the Iran issue on which, you know, we may learn something.

The Iranians, for example, have complained that the Russians have again delayed the opening of the Bushehr reactor.  And for the Americans, that continued delay is a plus.  But will we learn about the overall agreement the two sides reach on Iran?  Probably not.

On jockeying, this is something that is going to be a game that the American side will be trying to figure out, but it will not be easy to completely understand.  There's a certain kind of rivalry between Medvedev and Putin that is nevertheless mostly concealed.  And it doesn't detract from the fact that they are, you know, friends and political allies.

Putin knows that, given Medvedev's position, he's the guy who deals with foreign leaders.  But Putin wants to find ways of reminding everybody who's really in charge.  And I don't doubt that he will find ways of doing that.

GWERTZMAN:  Okay, I guess that's it.  Thank you, gentlemen.

SESTANOVICH:  A pleasure.  Thanks, Bernie.







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