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China, Russia to offer treaty to ban arms in space

GENEVA (Reuters) - China and Russia will submit a joint proposal next month for an international treaty to ban the deployment of weapons in outer space, a senior Russian arms negotiator said on Friday.

Valery Loshchinin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations-sponsored Conference on Disarmament, said the draft treaty would be presented to the 65-member forum on February 12.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to address the Geneva forum, which constitutes the world’s main disarmament negotiating body, on that day. Loshchinin gave no details on the proposal which has been circulated to some senior diplomats.

Tensions between Russia and the United States have deepened in recent years over U.S. plans to revive its stalled “Star Wars” program from the 1980s with a new generation of missile defense shields.

Nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction are banned from space under a 1967 international treaty. But Washington’s plans have stirred concerns about non-nuclear arms in space.

China tested an anti-satellite missile a year ago and Washington has been developing weapons which can hit satellites.

Donald Mahley, acting U.S. deputy assistant secretary for threat reduction, export controls and negotiations, on Thursday said China’s efforts for a space treaty stood in stark contrast with its anti-satellite test, which he called “a wake-up call”.

Regarding the Sino-Russian draft, he said: “We see nothing in the new proposal to change the current U.S. position.”

“Additional binding arms control agreements are simply not a viable tool for enhancing the long-term space security interests of the United States or its allies,” Mahley said.

China and Russia have presented several “working papers” on preventing an arms race in outer space over the last six years. Diplomats said their draft treaty was likely to refine elements from previous joint documents.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a speech to the disarmament group on Wednesday, expressed dismay over the long-standing impasse at the talks meant to stop the spread of dangerous weapons.

He called for the conference -- which has failed for a decade to reach the consensus needed to launch negotiations on any issue -- to make 2008 a “breakthrough year.”

Its last success dates to the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty banning underground nuclear explosions.

A Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty is strongly backed by the United States, but others -- notably China and Russia -- have long argued that parallel progress is needed on other questions, including preventing weapons being deployed in space.

Editing by Matthew Tostevin