UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia accused the United States on Monday of stonewalling negotiations on a new pact on reducing the size of the two powers’ nuclear arsenals, the latest sign of deteriorating Russian-U.S. relations.
“Negotiations between us and Washington to make sure that after START I treaty expires in December 2009 we have some meaningful strategic arms control regime, these negotiations are not so far heading anywhere,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START I, between the United States and Soviet Union came was signed in 1991 and eventually resulted in an estimated reduction of around 80 percent of all nuclear weapons in existence at the time.
Speaking on the sidelines of the annual open debate of the U.N. General Assembly, which ends later on Monday, Lavrov said the reason the talks had stalled was that “our American colleagues do not want to keep limits on the delivery vehicles (missile) and on nuclear warheads in storage.”
“They only want to keep some limits on the operationally deployed nuclear warheads,” he told reporters.
START I signatories were allowed to keep no more than 6,000 nuclear warheads beyond a specific number of intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles and bombers.
Lavrov’s accusation comes as relations between Washington and Moscow grow increasingly icy after Russia’s invasion of Georgia last month.
Russian forces thwarted an attempt by Tbilisi to re-establish control over its breakaway region of South Ossetia, which has since declared independence along with another separatist enclave. Only Russia and Nicaragua have recognized their independence.
The Russian minister also criticized the West for arming Georgia, a former Soviet republic that Lavrov said last week is in a geographic area where Moscow has “privileged interests.”
The United States and other Western powers, Lavrov charged, had delivered large amounts of weapons to the Tbilisi government, “including by covert means,” in violation of European Union rules and understandings within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
Russia’s relations with its neighbor Georgia have been tense for years, partly because Georgia’s pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili is determined to join NATO, something Moscow sees as NATO encroaching on its sphere of influence.
Lavrov said the eastward expansion of NATO, which now includes former members of the defunct Warsaw Pact as well as countries that once belonged to the Soviet Union, resulted in NATO becoming the key security forum for the world.
“This NATO centrism contradicts all the commitments of countries in the OSCE space ... not to ensure their own security at the expense of others,” he said.
Editing by Doina Chiacu