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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Hints Arms Deal Deadline May Change

WASHINGTON -- The chief U.S. negotiator in arms talks with Russia said she was optimistic that a deal to cut nuclear warheads could be reached with Moscow by year-end as planned but hinted that the deadline could shift.

Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance, said she expected tough negotiations to renew the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty before the expiration date of Dec. 5.

"I will underscore that this is a difficult task, but it is a doable task, and so we need to keep our eye on the prize over the next six months and we need to work carefully," Gottemoeller said Tuesday at a conference organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"If things aren't going well, you cannot rush to the finish to get something done," said Gottemoeller, who was confirmed in her new post Monday and will lead the U.S. negotiating team in talks on nuclear arsenals with Russia. "We will do what we have to do to get this negotiation done, but ... if necessary, we will look for ways to find more time for the negotiators, and so just bear that in mind."

Last week, Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev pledged after talks in London to replace START I, which led to cuts in nuclear weapons.

Gottemoeller said she spoke to her Russian counterpart on Monday and the two were sorting out dates to start the negotiations soon. "So we are on the road," she said.

She said Obama's instructions were not to "replay" START I. "In areas where we need to plow new ground, we will," she said.

Russia's ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, declined to get into the nitty-gritty of negotiations but said, "Is it going to be easy? No. There are a lot of things we need to learn from our American friends."

Among difficult issues to be negotiated will be differences over the way warheads are counted and whether warheads removed from missiles should be stored or destroyed. Moscow also wants to link the successor treaty to the proposed U.S. missile shield plan, which it strongly opposes.

Gottemoeller said missile defense would certainly be a topic for talks, but she anticipated that this would be part of a broad-ranging discussion on strategic issues "that will proceed on a separate track."

She reiterated that Washington's plans for a missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland depended on whether the program was deemed cost-effective and efficient and if Iran still posed a nuclear threat.

Despite optimism over reaching a deal, Gottemoeller pointed to key differences with Russia, including its opposition to NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, which Moscow invaded last summer.

Soon after the Russian incursion into Georgia, the administration of George W. Bush withdrew from congressional review a lucrative civilian nuclear pact with Moscow, a move seen as punitive but which was also aimed at preserving the deal, because it would likely have been rejected if it went to vote.

Kislyak said he hoped that the civilian pact could again be returned to Congress and Gottemoeller agreed, although she predicted a "slow and deliberate" process.