U.S.-Russia nuclear deal "95 percent" agreed upon

MOSCOW Sun Jan 24, 2010 1:18pm EST

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev attends a commission on Russian economy modernization and technological development at Gazprom headquarters in Moscow, December 25, 2009. REUTERS/Sergei Chirikov/Pool

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev attends a commission on Russian economy modernization and technological development at Gazprom headquarters in Moscow, December 25, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Sergei Chirikov/Pool

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Sunday that a deal with the United States on a landmark nuclear arms reduction treaty was "95 percent" agreed, news agencies reported Sunday.

"Everything in negotiations is going fine, 95 percent of the new deal's issues have been agreed upon," Interfax quoted him as telling reporters in the Black Sea town of Sochi.

"I am pretty optimistic in my expectations," he added, but said that U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe remained an issue.

Medvedev's spokeswoman Natalya Timakova declined to comment.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Medvedev laid out plans last year to forge a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, called START, and reduce the arsenals of the two largest nuclear powers.

It is an important element of efforts to mend relations between Washington and Moscow, which plunged to post-Cold War lows after Russia's brief war with pro-Western Georgia in 2008.

Negotiators were unable to reach agreement by December 5, when START I expired, and official negotiations in Geneva have not resumed after a break over the holiday period.

A top U.S. official indicated earlier this month that they would resume on January 25, and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday he expected an agreement would be reached soon once negotiations resume at the beginning of February.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in late December that U.S. plans for a missile defense system were the main obstacle to reaching a new deal, causing the U.S. State Department to reject any attempt to broaden START talks to cover defensive weapons systems.

Sunday, Medvedev said the Kremlin "will definitely raise the issue" of the missile shield with its U.S. negotiators once START talks resume.

"It is crafty to speak of strategic nuclear forces without touching upon missile defense," Itar-Tass quoted him as saying. "If nuclear missiles are launched, anti-missiles are too."

Russia's leaders have remained wary about Obama's revised missile defense plans, which are based on sea- and land-based missile interceptors in Europe.

Any START agreement must be ratified by lawmakers in both countries to take effect.

In July, Obama and Medvedev agreed that the new treaty should cut the number of nuclear warheads on each side to between 1,500 and 1,675, and the number of delivery vehicles to between 500 and 1,100.

Analysts say negotiators are at least closer to agreement on more specific numerical limits within those ranges.

Officials recently have said that issues still being negotiated included monitoring and verification measures.

(Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman, additional reporting by Denis Dyomkin)

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