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Russia Calls For Simpler Checks On Nuclear Cuts

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia today called for simpler verification procedures for planned cuts in nuclear weapons being discussed with the United States, its former Cold War foe.

"It's high time to get rid of excessive suspiciousness," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.

Talks between the world's two largest nuclear powers to find a replacement for the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) have stumbled in recent weeks, though both sides say they expect a deal to be reached in the near future.

Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev had said they wanted a new treaty by December 5, but that deadline passed and the old treaty was extended indefinitely while negotiators in Geneva try to agree a new deal.

"In the last couple of days we have noticed some slowing down in the position of U.S. negotiators in Geneva," Lavrov said.

"They explain this by the need to receive additional instructions. But our team is ready for work," said Lavrov.

Lavrov, whose ministry is leading the negotiations together with the U.S. State Department, added that a deal was unlikely to be signed this weekend on the sidelines of the Copenhagen climate summit which both Obama and Medvedev plan to attend.

A senior Obama administration official said in Washington late on December 16 the arms negotiations were likely to extend into 2010.

Both sides say that finding a replacement to the START I treaty, the biggest agreement to cut nuclear weapons in history, would help "reset" relations after rows in recent years.

Negotiations in Switzerland have been proceeding under unusually tight secrecy and neither side has given a clear explanation for the delay in finding a deal.

Nuclear Cuts

The START I treaty, signed in July 1991 by U.S. President George Bush senior and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, took nearly a decade to achieve but under the deal both Russia and the United States more than halved their nuclear arsenals.

Obama and Medvedev said at a Moscow summit in July they wanted a new treaty that would reduce operationally deployed nuclear warheads to 1,500-1,675, a cut of about a third from current levels.

They also agreed that strategic delivery systems -- the missiles, bombers and submarines that launch nuclear warheads -- should be limited to between 500 and 1,100 units.

Lavrov said he hoped the cuts in the new treaty would be as drastic as possible but added that verification procedures, which were extremely strict under START I, should be made "less complicated and less costly."

"I believe that if Russian and U.S. negotiators concentrate on implementing these remaining orders from the presidents, we will reach agreement within a pretty brief period," he said.

Precise figures on deployed nuclear weapons are secret, but the U.S.-based Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimated at the start of 2009 that the United States had about 2,200 operationally deployed nuclear warheads and Russia about 2,790.