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Bush administration wants arms talks with Russia
Thu Nov 6, 2008 6:11pm EST
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By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration wants talks with Russia soon on proposals to limit strategic nuclear warheads and address Moscow's concerns about a U.S. missile shield in Europe, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.
With just over two months left in the Bush administration, acting under secretary of state for arms control, John Rood, told reporters, "We are looking forward to a robust dialogue with the Russians."
U.S. relations with Russia plunged to a post-Cold War low during George W. Bush's presidency, especially after the Russian military intervention in U.S. ally Georgia in August. Moscow says selfish U.S. foreign policy sparked the war in Georgia.
Rood said he was working to schedule a date to discuss the U.S. proposals with his Russian counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, probably in Moscow. "We are planning to meet in the near term, in the next couple of weeks."
But one U.S. arms control expert said the Bush administration, which leaves office on January 20, was running out of both the time and influence it needs to strike an arms deal.
The Russians "will wait and see what the next administration (of President-elect Barack Obama) has to offer," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.
Washington sent Moscow a proposal more than two weeks ago for a follow-on to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) of 1991 that set ceilings on the size of the Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals but expires in December 2009, Rood said.
Earlier this week Washington also sent a separate proposal to Moscow elaborating on transparency and confidence-building measures to try to assuage Russian objections to Washington's plans for a U.S. anti-missile system in Europe, he said.
The project has angered Russia, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday pledged to station new missiles near Poland's border in response.
Parts of the U.S. system will be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic, and Russia has said the shield is a threat to its own security. The United States denies this and says it is intended to protect against "rogue" states like Iran.
Rood said Medvedev's comments about the system were "unwelcome" and "disappointing" but that the United States remained committed to try and convince the Russians that the missile defense project was not aimed at them.
Under the U.S. proposals, Russian officials could go to the missile defense sites, and "see for themselves that the sites are going to serve the purpose that we envision in the United States," he said.
Obama has supported work on a system to protect the United States and its allies from missile attacks, but says it must be "pragmatic and cost-effective" and cannot divert resources from other priorities until its technologies are proven.
Obama also has said he would seek real, verifiable reductions in all U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, and try to extend the monitoring and verification provisions of the START treaty.
Rood said the Bush administration's START follow-on proposal focused on limiting nuclear warheads while the existing treaty focuses on missile delivery systems, but declined to provide details. Continued...
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