INITIATIVES (and apologies) are coming so thick and fast from the Obama White House that it is quite difficult to keep track of them. The fiscal stimulus legislation is obviously of overriding importance but the President's plans for nuclear disarmament, announced yesterday, come pretty close. The existing Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) between Russia and the United States expires at the end of this year yet during his eight years in office George W Bush made little if any effort to negotiate its renewal. Under Start, the number of nuclear warheads held by each country has been reduced from 10'000 to 5'000; Barack Obama has hinted that a further reduction to one thousand each would make sense. Of late, the main obstacle to new negotiations has been the Bush plan to install a missIle defence system on the borders of Russia in the Czech
Republic and Poland; Mr Obama has already said he intends to review this plan and in response last week, prime minister Putin of Russia said he was ready to halt retaliatory action by deploying tactical missiles near the Polish border. In his inaugural address President Obama put arms reduction in third place after Iraq and Afghanistan among his priorities. But a renewal of Start, or an agreement in principle to renew it, is urgent and should be relatively easy to achieve given the realistic positions now being taken in Moscow and Washington.