ROME (Reuters) - U.S. and Russian arms negotiators held a “very productive” initial round of talks Friday aimed at agreeing a new treaty to curb nuclear weapons as part of a broader effort to improve relations.
Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for verification and compliance, said the meeting in Rome was “very productive” and “got off to a fast start.”
Her Russian counterpart Anatoly Antonov, who unexpectedly held a joint news conference with Gottemoeller at the U.S. embassy in Rome, said Moscow would do its “utmost” to prepare a new draft treaty by year-end.
“We are sure, we are sure that this treaty, new treaty, will help to improve relations between (the) United States and (the) Russian Federation,” Antonov said, speaking in English.
“We are sure that this treaty could promote confidence, predictability in the world. And I hope that it will be a very impressive impulse to international movement regarding getting rid (of the world’s) nuclear weapon(s).”
The Rome talks were called after presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev agreed in London earlier this month to work out a replacement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1), which expires in December.
Both sides see a new arms reduction deal as a way to show that the former Cold War foes can work together despite bitter rows on other issues, such as NATO expansion into regions once dominated by Moscow and tackling Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
“These negotiations will be very important in hitting the reset button in the U.S.-Russian relationship, restoring mutual confidence to make progress in a lot of areas,” Gottemoeller said.
After Friday’s talks, the first full-fledged negotiations would be held in May in the United States, Antonov said.
RAPPORT BUT DIFFERENCES
Gottemoeller, former director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, knew Antonov very well before the Rome talks, officials say, and the two demonstrated a certain rapport.
Calling each other by their first names, they fielded questions in both Russian and English, and were positive about the future talks even as they warned that the real negotiating work still lay ahead.
Sticking points include U.S. plans for a missile shield, which Russia opposes, and which Antonov told reporters “is a very important issue” to Moscow.
Obama and Medvedev have ordered the negotiators to report back on progress by July. Gottemoeller expressed optimism.
“On the basis of this very productive meeting today, I would say that we will have a good report for them in July,” she said.
She told a conference earlier this month it would be hard to meet a deadline of December 5, when the existing START-1 treaty expires.
Antonov said “we are very much satisfied to see Rose as the chief negotiator.”
The proposed arms deal would go beyond a 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), which committed both sides to cutting arsenals to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads by 2012.
SORT will remain in force for a further three years.
Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Tim Pearce
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