On March 6, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Geneva for the first time. As is customary at diplomatic meetings, Clinton presented Lavrov with a gift.
So far, so good.
In a play on language used by Vice President Biden during his February speech in Munich, Clinton gave Lavrov a red button with what the U.S. delegation thought had “reset” written on it in Russian. The word was mistranslated, however, and the button actually said “overcharge.”
Despite the initial foible, Clinton and Lavrov had a productive meeting. The two ministers discussed “the negotiation of a follow-on agreement to the START treaty, and broader areas of cooperation to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and prevent further proliferation,” according to Clinton.
Lavrov also emphasized the prominence of nuclear arms reduction in the meeting. “Special attention was paid to nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass…destruction, strategic offensive and defensive weapons as well,” he said.
These remarks are particularly encouraging because the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) is set to expire in December 2009. If START elapses without a follow-on agreement, the treaty’s key verification procedures would disappear since they were not included in the 2003 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT).
Hopefully, when the United States and Russia next meet they will continue to discuss arms control with the goal of reducing their strategic nuclear stockpiles to 1,000 or fewer per side.
The first meeting between Russia and the new Obama administration was promising despite the language mix up. Russia and the United States have many areas in which they can collaborate. Let’s hope they can build on their vital partnership and make significant progress on pressing security concerns in 2009.