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Russia rebuffs US call for new arms talks

by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) Feb 7, 2011
Russia said Monday it was premature to set a date for a new round of nuclear disarmament talks on short-range missiles amid pressure from the United States for a quick reduction.

US President Barack Obama's administration is keen to launch negotiations over so-called tactical weapons that have remained outside the remit of previous nuclear disarmament agreements.

The talks are a part of Obama's vision of creating a world without nuclear weapons and would mark an unprecedented departure from the largely theoretical cutbacks that previously covered only long-range heavy missiles.

The number of the smaller tactical weapons each side has remains a secret but military experts estimate that Russia has about 1,500 more than the United States.

A top Russian foreign ministry official said Monday that Moscow was aware of Washington's desire to start a new round of short-range missile reduction talks this year.

But he said such talks could only go ahead once Washington reconsidered its plans for a new missile defence shield for Europe and its desire to place weapons in space.

"We have taken note of the US president's position, which seeks to put a timeframe on the start of tactical nuclear missile negotiations," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said.

"But we should put the emphasis on the word 'seeks'," the Russian official said

"We are not avoiding these talks. But talks about tactical nuclear missiles are impossible without a set of other issues: an imbalance of conventional forces, missile defence, and the deployment of arms in space," he said.

"Will these issues be put to a review? I do not have the answer to this key question at this point," Ryabkov said.

The diplomat's comments came two days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov exchanged ratification documents in Munich formally bringing into force a new START treaty covering long-range arms.

Clinton said Saturday that she would use the occasion to discuss "further arms control issues" with Lavrov -- including the two countries' stocks of short- and medium-range missiles and non-deployed nuclear weapons.

But Moscow appears intent on making any future discussions dependent on Washington's ability to compromise on its mooted missile defence shield for Europe.

Russia initially resisted the idea outright before amending its stance and seeking a formal say on how the system worked.

The Kremlin initially argued that the shield -- while designed to protect the West against potential strikes from countries such as North Korea and Iran -- could weaken Russia's own unclear deterrence potential.

A senior defence official repeated that argument Monday, saying Russia was the only country that could conceivably pose a threat to the West today.

"This system could undermine Russia's nuclear deterrence forces," said Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov.

But military analysts suggest that Moscow's true worry is that the US-led NATO alliance might one day turn the shield into an offensive system that can fire various high-tech weapons and missiles at Russia from space.

An equal say in how the shield operates could potentially ensure that the system is never pointed at Russia. But NATO officials have responded to Russia's arguments with extreme caution.

Moscow press reports said the Alliance was particularly concerned about giving Russia the right to determine which countries posed a danger to Europe.

The Kommersant business daily quoted one NATO diplomat as saying that one of the main disagreements concerned Iran -- an old Russian ally that Moscow refuses to recognize as an immediate threat.

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