Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Russia, US to agree nuclear arms cuts

(News.com.au) -RUSSIAN and US leaders Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama have announced agreements on Afghanistan and cutting their nuclear arsenals as they seek a new era in battered relations.

The ex-Cold War foes have issued a declaration on replacing a key disarmament treaty - including figures for major cuts in nuclear warheads - and have clinched a breakthrough deal for US military transit for Afghanistan across Russia.

But as Mr Obama made his first visit to Moscow as president, they still remain divided over US plans to install a missile defence shield in eastern Europe and Moscow's policy towards the pro-Western, ex-Soviet state of Georgia.

"The president and I agreed that the relationship between Russia and the United States (has suffered) from a sense of drift," Mr Obama said in the Kremlin with Mr Medvedev today.

"We resolved to reset US-Russian relations. Today, after less than six months of collaboration (since coming to office), we have done exactly that," he said.

The declaration signed by the presidents pledges to reach a new nuclear arms reduction pact to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

Mr Obama said it provides for cuts of "up to a third" from current limitations.

It "commits both parties to a legally binding treaty that will reduce nuclear weapons," the White House said.

START is due to expire on December 5 but the declaration gave no target date for a renewal, instructing negotiators to complete the work as quickly as possible.

The declaration called for a reduction in the number of nuclear warheads in Russian and US strategic arsenals to between 1500 and 1675 within seven years and the number of ballistic missile carriers to between 500 and 1100.

The cuts go beyond those levels set in the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which calls for both countries to reduce the number of deployed warheads to between 1700 and 2200 on either side by 2012.

Mr Obama also proposed that the United States host a global nuclear security summit next year and suggested to Mr Medvedev that Russia host a subsequent one in order to draft a new, "reinvigorated" non-proliferation treaty.

The Afghanistan agreement means Russia has authorised the use of its airspace for the transit of US troops and arms, a major boost for Mr Obama's bid to step up the fight against the Taliban.

Previously Russia had allowed the US to ship only non-lethal military supplies across its territory by train.

The two sides also signed an agreement to resume bilateral military cooperation suspended in August last year over Moscow's war in Georgia, an event which sent ties plummeting to a post-Cold War low.

But amid the smiles and expressions of goodwill, the US plan to install missile defence facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland - which Russia says threatens its security - remained a major sticking point.

Mr Obama expressed hope, however, that "over time we will have seen that the US and Russian positions can be reconciled" and announced that both sides would step up their joint analysis of missile threats.

He also bluntly repeated the US dissatisfaction with Russia's recognition of two breakaway Russian regions as independent, Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity "must be respected".

"There are areas where we still disagree... we had a frank discussion on Georgia."

From correspondents in Moscow
Agence France-Presse

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