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Russians jump the gun on joint arms control statement

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The good news is that the United States and Russia are pledging to maintain the provisions of the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), a major nuclear arms control pact, which expires at midnight Friday, Greenwich mean time.

But even with the best intentions, the path to cooperation is not always smooth. On Friday morning, the Russian side jumped the gun, putting out a statement announcing that President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev were committing “as a matter of principle to continue to work together in the spirit of the START Treaty following its expiration.”

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Let's talk timing

At a morning meeting with reporters, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs had just explained that Messrs. Medvedev and Obama had talked on the phone Friday morning discussing unresolved issues. Mr. Gibbs said the plan was that if negotiations were not concluded before the treaty expired, "there will be a joint statement from the two presidents outlining that what is in place now will continue to go forward as we make progress toward a renewed agreement in the very near future.”

About 15 minutes later, a reporter who had been checking her BlackBerry spoke up to tell Gibbs that the Kremlin had already issued the joint statement that the White House was expecting on Saturday. A member of the White House staff said, “That is in essence the statement that is expected tomorrow.”

And Gibbs quipped, “I guess they are a little ahead of the curve.”

At 11:07 a.m., Eastern time Friday, the White House issued its version of the statement reaffirming the two leaders’ “firm intention to ensure that a new treaty on strategic arms enter into force at the earliest possible date.”

European side trip?

There has been speculation that Obama would meet Medvedev in Prague in the Czech Republic to sign a START deal next week while he's in Europe to pick up his Nobel Peace Prize. But Gibbs discounted the idea, saying that the White House did not have an advance team working on such a trip.