ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (AFP) — The United States urged a reluctant Russia yesterday to engage in talks to extend a programme that has helped disarm thousands of ex-Soviet nuclear warheads and missiles.
Russian officials said this week that they had notified Washington that the Nunn-Lugar programme, due to expire in May 2013, would not be extended, in the latest challenge to a vaunted "reset" of US relations with the Kremlin.
But the Obama administration said that it understood Moscow wanted revisions to the programme and that it was ready to continue negotiations about it.
"There's surely more work to be done in that programme and we're going to engage in that effort," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One.
At the State Department in Washington, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that US diplomats started talking to Moscow about the 20-year US-financed programme's renewal in July, and that discussions were still going on.
"They have told us that they want revisions to the previous agreement. We are prepared to work with them on those revisions, and we want to have conversations about it," Nuland said.
"This is a programme that has paid dividends for the Russian people, for the American people. It's paid dividends globally, and we hope to be able to continue it."
Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday that Moscow wanted to end the programme, named after former senator Sam Nunn and retiring Indiana Senator Richard Lugar.
"The American side knows that we do not want another extension," Ryabkov told Russia's Interfax news agency. "This is not news to the American side."
The report said Ryabkov was responding to Russian newspaper speculation that the initiative had been shut down as a consequence of the Kremlin's decision to kick out the USAID development programme organised by the US embassy in Moscow.
USAID has been ordered out of the country over accusations it supported opposition leaders who helped organise a wave of demonstrations against President Vladimir Putin's rule.
But Ryabkov said the Nunn-Lugar decision was in no way related to the USAID case.
Lugar, who is leaving the Senate after losing a Republican primary challenge, travelled to Russia in August to talk about extending the deal.
He said in a statement on Wednesday that he knew Russia wanted to make changes to the deal rather than to simply extend it.
"At no time did officials indicate that, at this stage of negotiation, they were intent on ending it, only amending it," he said.