Still No Decision On Future Of START

GENEVA -- The United States and Russia ended talks Friday on the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, without making a decision on extending the landmark pact, which expires in a year, a U.S. statement said.

Officials from the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, where Soviet nuclear weapons were withdrawn under the treaty, also took part in the weeklong discussions among technical experts in Geneva.

"The parties desire to point out that there was no treaty requirement to make a decision to extend the treaty at this meeting," said the U.S. statement issued after the session.

Officials from all five countries would "continue to consider the issue and note that a decision on this issue can be made up until the date of expiration of the treaty on Dec. 5, 2009," it said.

No date for a next round of discussions was announced.

START was the first treaty to reduce the superpowers' strategic offensive weapons. Its provisions specified that talks on a successor agreement needed to begin at least a year before the original pact expires.

Washington sent Moscow a proposal last month for a follow-up to the Cold War-era pact. Moscow has indicated that it would be willing to consider U.S. proposals for a new version of the pact.

But with U.S. President George W. Bush leaving office in two months, real decisions are likely to be left to his successor, arms control analysts said.

The Geneva talks should help the outgoing administration hand things over to the incoming team of President-elect Barack Obama, they said.

"It would help everybody understand what they need to be telling the transition team about the process, what they need to say to the Obama team to get them ready to take over this dossier," said one disarmament expert.

Obama has said he would seek real, verifiable reductions in all U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons and try to extend the monitoring and verification provisions of the START treaty.