Gary Samore is the kind of sane, well-informed and low-key professional who makes me glad that Obama is now in control of US foreign policy. He works on the National Security Council and has a long and complicated title to do with arms control and nuclear non-proliferation, but he says the president refers to him as “my nukes guy”, which about sums it up. That means that Samore spends his days grappling with some of the most sensitive dossiers in US foreign policy – in particular Iran, Russia and North Korea.
Yesterday he was in London on his way back from the Moscow summit and he gave an on-the-record briefing at the International Institute of Strategic Studies. Naturally there are limits to how frank you can be in such a setting, but I still thought he had several interesting things to say:
First, the nuclear-arms reduction deal agreed in principle in Moscow is essentially a modest first step. The START (strategic arms reduction) treaty runs out at the end of the year, and it is important to have an interim agreement on further reduction – if only to keep the mechanisms for mutual inspections and co-operation going. If they can nail down all the details on this initial relatively modest reduction in nuclear weapons, Samore hopes that Russia and the US will then be able to negotiate a deal for much deeper cuts in nuclear-weapons stock-piles. He says that at that point Russian concerns about missile defence will become more valid. The Americans argue that the system they are working on is so modest that it could only be effective against a country with a very small number of nuclear missiles – such as, potentially, an Iran that went nuclear.