Two Swiss newspapers - Le Temps и Neue Zurcher Zeitung got hold of diplomatic cables that describe an interesting moment in the New START negotiations - November and early December 2009, a few weeks before expiration of the original START treaty. Here are the documents on the Le Temps web site - November 13, 2009, November 29, 2010, and December 2, 2009. It's an interesting reading, although it probably reveals a bit more of the negotiating record than the U.S. and Russian governments would like.

There is not much really new there - we knew that Russia tried to limit the number of launchers, while the United States wanted to keep the launchers intact. As it turned out, the original U.S. proposal was to have 1100 launchers. By November 2009, the United States was ready to go to 800, while Russia suggested 500. Apparently it took an intervention from the presidents to bring this number to 700, although there was a serious disagreement about how to account for non-nuclear warheads.

To address Russia's concerns, the United States offered, among other things, perimeter monitoring of its two warhead storage facilities - the names are blacked out, but these are likely the Strategic Weapons Facility Atlantic at Kings Bay and Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific in Bangor - the Bulletin Nuclear Notebook lists these two as the primary naval warhead storage sites. In exchange, however, the U.S. insisted on continuing access to the Votkinsk plant (it's blacked out as well, by the way), arguing that as much as Russia is concerned about the upload potential of the U.S. submarines, the United States is concerned about Russian mobile missiles. Votkinsk, however, was where Russia drew red line - for some reason this was made into a very hot political issue back in Russia.

On missile defense, the United States fought quite hard to prevent the statement on relationship between offense and defense from appearing in the text of the treaty. Russia "was adamant" that it was critical to have this in the treaty as a legally binding statements that would have to be ratified by both countries. The United States suggested that the offense defense statement could be included in a separate document, but Russia objected to that, saying that at least one sentence should be in the treaty proper. But it looks like at this stage the United States was willing to accept having the statement in the treaty preamble. At some point it looks like neither side was sure what the status of the issue is, but they knew very well that it is one of the key elements of the process. Eventually, as we know, the statement made it into the preamble, which was the right thing to do.

Overall, the cables provide a very interesting snapshot of the talks and show that both sides made their share of concessions on the road to the final treaty. I think both sides did a very good job. Well, the treaty would be much better had they agreed to release the data, but as the cables show, the U.S. at least did something - Russia wanted any data release to be explicitly approved by both sides. Let's hope this is not how it works.