By Frank James
President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are reportedly close to an agreement on a new nuclear arms treaty to replace the START pact that expired in December.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs at Wednesday's briefing with reporters wouldn't go so far as to say there was an agreement but indicated in response to a reporter's question that one was at hand.
REPORTER: On the START treaty, can you just give us a good assessment on where that stands? Is a deal done?
MR. GIBBS: I have said on many occasions that we are making strong progress toward getting an agreement. We are, I think, very close to having an agreement on a START treaty and -- but won't have one until President Obama and his counterpart, Mr. Medvedev, have a chance to speak again.
REPORTER: Is that scheduled? What's the time --
MR. GIBBS: I think they will likely speak in the next few days.
REPORTER: Next few days?
REPORTER: So we were hearing Friday as a possible -- as the most likely day to pull all this together. How would you assess that?
MR. GIBBS: I would say, again, I would characterize this as having made very strong progress. You know the President spoke personally on March 13th to Mr. Medvedev and I think we're very close to getting an agreement.
Peter Baker and Ellen Barry of the New York Times reported the following:
WASHINGTON -- President Obama and his Russian counterpart, President Dmitri A. Medvedev, have broken through a logjam in their arms control negotiations and expect to sign a new treaty in Prague next month that would slash American and Russian nuclear arsenals, officials from both nations said Wednesday.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev still need to talk once more to finalize the agreement, but officials were optimistic that the deal was nearly done.
The two sides have discussed a signing ceremony in Prague in early April, marking the anniversary of the first meeting between the two presidents and of Mr. Obama's speech outlining his vision for eventually eliminating nuclear weapons.
The new pact would replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991, which expired in December, and would require both sides to reduce their warheads and launchers by more than one-quarter. The agreement is the most significant accomplishment so far for Mr. Obama's policy of trying to "reset" relations with Russia. It is intended to pave the way for another more far-reaching round of reductions later in his term.