MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Talks on a landmark treaty to cut Cold War nuclear arsenals are nearly complete, U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev agreed in a telephone call on Wednesday.
The call, which the Kremlin said was initiated by Washington, followed comments by Russian Foreign Ministry officials that negotiators from both countries were likely to agree on a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) within weeks.
“The heads of state in detail and objectively discussed topical issues pertaining to Russian-U.S. relations, including approaching signing, in the near future, a new treaty on strategic arms reduction,” official site kremlin.ru said.
It said the call was conducted in a “constructive” spirit.
Forging a new pact is a key element of Obama’s efforts to mend relations with Russia, which plunged to post-Cold War lows after Russia’s war with pro-Western Georgia in August 2008.
The United States and Russia also hope the new treaty will boost efforts to curb global nuclear arms proliferation by sending a message that the countries possessing all but 5 percent of the world’s arsenals are making cuts.
The White House said the two sides had been making steady progress in the START negotiations in recent weeks.
“The presidents agreed that negotiations are nearly complete, and pledged to continue the constructive contacts that have advanced U.S.-Russian relations over the last year,” it said in a statement.
A senior U.S. official accompanying Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on a trip to London said the negotiators had agreed on the broad principles of a new treaty but that some technical work remained. He agreed with the Russian view that a deal could be concluded within weeks.
Meetings between U.S. and Russian officials in Moscow last week helped bring the sides together, Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Lyakin-Frolov said.
“The talks were successful, and as a result we can hope that it will take just a few weeks for negotiators to come up with a document,” Lyakin-Frolov said.
After failing to put a new treaty in place before START I expired last month, both sides have expressed hope for a signing before a non-proliferation conference starts in April.
Full negotiations are to resume in Geneva on Monday.
Last July, Obama and Medvedev agreed the new treaty should cut the number of nuclear warheads on each side to between 1,500 and 1,675. Officials have said the sides were still negotiating over verification measures, which Russia wants to be much less strict than under START.
Lyakin-Frolov indicated that one issue still being discussed was telemetry — the remote monitoring of missiles in launch and flight.
On the divisive issue of missile defense, Lyakin-Frolov said the United States must take Russia’s interests into account in the negotiations but suggested the pact might not address the issue in detail.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said last month that the United States should give Russia telemetry on anti-missile systems if it wants data on Russian offensive missiles, a potential deal-breaker because the U.S. Senate is unlikely to ratify a pact encompassing missile defense.
Medvedev said on Sunday that Russia would raise the missile defense issue when talks resume.
Reporting by Steve Gutterman and Amie Ferris-Rotman in Moscow, Andrew Quinn in London and Ross Colvin in Washington; editing by David Stamp and David Storey