By Anna Smolchenko (AFP) – Mar 1, 2010
PARIS — Russia and the United States are getting close to a deal on reducing their nuclear arsenals through a follow-up to the START treaty, Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev and US officials said Monday.
"We are close to agreeing all issues," Medvedev told reporters in Paris. "We are already agreeing on the nuances of the text. I hope that these talks will be brought to a conclusion in the nearest future."
Negotiations on a replacement to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) between Moscow and Washington, which expired December 5, have dragged on for months despite reports that the two sides are near agreement.
In Washington, senior US officials speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed Monday that a deal was in the offing, with one adding that President Barack Obama plans "dramatic reductions" in the country's nuclear arsenal.
"We expect the negotiations will resume in Geneva on March 9," said another, referring to the talks with Russia, explaining that the negotiating teams had headed to their respective capitals for a "last round" of consultations.
The broad outlines of a new START replacement treaty on nuclear weapons have been clear since a summit in July, when Obama and Medvedev agreed to slash the number of warheads on either side to between 1,500 and 1,675.
The presidents also agreed that the number of weapon systems capable of delivering the warheads should be limited to between 500 and 1,100.
The United States has said it currently has some 2,200 nuclear warheads, while Russia is believed to have about 3,000.
Nobel peace laureate Obama has called for all nuclear powers to give up their arms, in the so-called "Global Zero" option, but both Medvedev and his host in Paris, President Nicolas Sarkozy, were sceptical about this goal.
"Global zero is a beautiful idea but, as you'll understand, this idea can only be reached as a result of concerted work by all nuclear states," the Russian leader warned.
Moscow would need "confidence that 'stowaways' will not remain in the nuclear club -- those who got there without a ticket" in a reference to countries outside current non-proliferation agreements.
"We cannot leave this issue without oversight," he said.
In addition to Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel are known to have developed and tested nuclear weapons.
The international community fears that Iran is preparing to follow suit.
For his part, Sarkozy said France would not "abandon the French deterrent without being sure that the same thing was happening everywhere.
"France has led the way in reducing nuclear arsenals," he added. "As I said to President Obama: 'We'll reduce our level of nuclear weapons when the United States and Russia have come down to the same level as us'."
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