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World News

CORRECTED - Russia and U.S. officials discuss nuclear arms pact

(Corrects to show proposed radar would be stationed in the Czech Republic and the interceptor missiles in Poland)

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian and U.S. officials on Monday met for talks, which Moscow’s negotiator said could open doors for a new deal in nuclear arms control with Washington’s next administration in 2009.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Rood will discuss behind closed doors a replacement to the START-1 pact which expires in December 2009.

The Foreign Ministry gave no details of talks, which are also expected to cover Iranian nuclear problems and a number of other strategic issues.

“We have reached an understanding with the current U.S. administration that we need a new treaty replacing the existing one,” Ryabkov said in an interview with Kommersant daily. “There is a chance to finalise a new document by December 2009.”

The START-1 treaty, signed by Moscow and Washington in July 1991, has committed both sides to cutting the number of their missiles and strategic bombers to 1,600 each. Both sides met limits set by the treaty by December 2001.

Considerations on what should follow the START-1 have been marred by growing differences between Moscow and Washington in arms control issues.

In December 2001, President George W.Bush announced the United States was withdrawing from a 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), another keynote arms control pact which limited the right of both sides to set up missile defence systems.

Russia has denounced the U.S. decision -- intended to enable Washington’s plans to create a global missile defence system -- as a breach of global strategic balance.

Washington’s subsequent moves to install elements of a missile defence system in Eastern Europe have become the worst irritant in bilateral relations for years.

Russia rejects U.S. reasoning that interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic are needed to avert potential missile strikes from Iran.

Moscow says the project is targeted against it and has vowed to respond by deploying own missiles in the westernmost enclave of Kaliningrad bordering NATO members Poland and Lithuania.

Russia’s hopes to persuade Bush to give up the Missile Shield plans in favour of a joint project have failed. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said he pins his hopes now on new U.S. President Barack Obama due to take office in January.

Ryabkov made clear that any deal on the future strategic arms reduction treaty will be signed with Obama and could become an instrument to improve current thorny bilateral ties.

“This (new treaty) will help to formulate a positive agenda in bilateral relations” he said. “I think the work will accelerate once the U.S. administration changes.”

Ryabkov also said U.S. missile defence plans could become a stumbling block.

“U.S. Missile Defence plans only convince us that these issues should be considered in a package,” he said.

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