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Russia pushes for revised arms pact as priority in US relations

RUSSIA called yesterday for a successor agreement with the United States to replace the START-1 strategic nuclear arms reduction pact, saying this was a priority in "resetting" their relations as Washington has urged.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, addressing a disarmament conference after holding bilateral talks in Geneva on Friday with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said: "We are prepared, as was suggested by our American partners, to 'reset' our relations."

"Conclusion of a new legally-binding Russian-American treaty on strategic offensive weapons could become a priority step in that direction."

Speaking at a news conference later, Lavrov also called on Washington to take Moscow's concerns into account when it reviewed plans to deploy a missile defence shield in eastern Europe to counter nuclear threats.

Lavrov said that such a system would be seen by Moscow as a threat to Russia.

"If a third positioning area in eastern Europe is actually created this would involve risks for the strategic interests of the Russian Federation," Lavrov said.

"We would have to take account of measures to alleviate this risk," he added. "At the same time, we would prefer not to move in this direction."

Clinton, speaking on Friday, also set a priority in reaching a new agreement with Russia to replace the START-1 (Strategic Arms Reduction) Treaty on reducing long-range nuclear weapons which was negotiated during the superpower rivalry of the Cold War and which expires in December 2009.

Russia sees the treaty as the cornerstone of post-Cold War arms control and believes that letting it lapse without finding an adequate replacement could upset the strategic balance.

Lavrov, speaking at the disarmament conference, quoted President Dmitry Medvedev as saying a new agreement should limit not only nuclear warheads "but also strategic delivery vehicles, i.e. intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and heavy bombers."

The Bush administration, which tried unsuccessfully to reach a compromise deal with the Russians on a START-1 successor, said curbs should be on nuclear warheads only.

Lavrov repeated a Russian call for the Middle East to be made a nuclear weapons-free zone.

"The task to strengthen the nuclear non-proliferation regime in the Middle East remains urgent," he told the arms conference.

"We consistently advocate this region to become a nuclear-weapon-free zone, and eventually, a zone free from all other types of weapons of mass destruction," he said.

Israel is believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, though it has never acknowledged a programme or ever testing atomic weapons. Western allies believe Iran is covertly developing a nuclear weapon.


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