Senator Lugar mentioned in his speech at a conference in Virginia yesterday that the U.S. administration is ready to accept a "legally binding" arms control agreement with Russia when START Treaty expires in 2009. Here is what he said:
Last year, I was concerned by reports that U.S.-Russian negotiations did not include discussions of a legally binding treaty or the continuation of a formal verification regime. I am pleased to report that the Administration has changed course and will accept a legally-binding regime.
It would be good to see how the Administration itself sees it, but it seems to be a good news anyway - "legally binding" is one of those codewords that Russia absolutely insisted on being part of the discussion. As I understand, that was the single most contentious point during the last year discussions.
The irony is that the readiness of the United States to have a binding agreement may, in fact, make the extension of START more difficult. But then, once Russia gets its main symbolic prize, the definitions may become fairly flexible - as far as I remember, the Moscow Treaty was declared "legally binding" as well.
UPDATE 02/03/08: Russia, on the other hand, complains that there is no progress at the consultations and the U.S. approach to negotiations is disappointing.