Russian START negotiators going home but to return

GENEVA Fri Feb 26, 2010 3:57pm EST

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GENEVA (Reuters) - Russian arms control officials are leaving Geneva at the weekend for Moscow but negotiations with the United States on a START successor treaty are expected to resume in coming weeks, an official told Reuters on Friday.

The pause appeared to signal that high-level consultations in the capital are needed on final details of the pact to cut strategic nuclear weapons, analysts said.

It comes after the presidents of Russia and the United States agreed on Wednesday to urge their negotiators to speed up work and prepare for signing a new START deal, according to a Kremlin statement at the time.

"Our delegation will be leaving this weekend. I don't know the new date of negotiations, maybe on March 8th or 15th," an official at the Russian diplomatic mission told Reuters.

Russian officials would still attend a negotiating session scheduled for Saturday morning in the Swiss city before departing for Moscow, the official added.

There was no official confirmation of the break from the U.S. diplomatic mission in Geneva, where one American official said it had been under discussion by the two sides.

Negotiations were continuing as planned on Friday evening. "The teams are still here," the U.S. official told Reuters.

President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have pledged to complete the pact to succeed the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expired last December.

They have agreed to cut deployed nuclear warheads to between 1,500 and 1,675 on each side.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Tuesday the United States believes an agreement is now clearly in sight.

"There are still some details to be worked out. We hope we can do that in coming days," he told a news briefing in Washington after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton phoned her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov to discuss the talks.

Analysts say a deal could boost strained ties between Washington and Moscow and emphasize their shared commitment to nuclear disarmament at a time when major powers are pressing Iran and North Korea to renounce their nuclear ambitions.

There has been a media blackout around the intense talks, which broke off for a few weeks for the Christmas and New Year holidays.

"The negotiators are closeted and practically living together," a Western diplomat in Geneva told Reuters this week.

(Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Elizabeth Fullerton)

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