MOSCOW (Reuters) - The United States and Russia on Tuesday held talks aimed at cutting stockpiles of nuclear weapons, a move that could herald a thaw in relations between the former Cold War foes.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last month agreed to pursue a deal on cutting nuclear weapons that would replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), which expires in December.
The talks, which began at a 19th century mansion in central Moscow, must deal with complex technical issues about nuclear weapons. Diplomats said the mood was positive.
“We are seeking a constructive dialogue and hope that the optimism that is being expressed by both sides will feed through into practical results,” local news agencies quoted an unidentified Russian Foreign Ministry official as saying.
On arrival, negotiators made no comments to reporters. The Russian Foreign Ministry also declined to comment.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wished the negotiators well from a conference on disarmament in Geneva.
“Let me extend my best wishes for the negotiations between the two countries taking place in Moscow,” Ban said, according to a text of his speech supplied by the United Nations.
In Washington, Obama said after a meeting with national security experts, including former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, that reducing nuclear proliferation and the threat of nuclear weapons was “one of our highest priorities.”
“It is absolutely imperative that America take leadership, working with not just our Russian counterparts, but countries all around the world to reduce and ultimately eliminate the dangers that are posed by nuclear weapons,” he said.
Russian officials expect the United States to present a draft text of a new deal to cut nuclear weapons as the world’s two biggest nuclear powers seek to narrow differences before Obama and Medvedev meet in Moscow on July 6-8.
The U.S. team in Moscow is led by Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller and will include officials from the Pentagon and Department of Energy.
Gottemoeller, an expert on Russia who is respected in Moscow, held preliminary talks in Rome last month with Russia’s chief negotiator Anatoly Antonov, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s department of security and disarmament.
Medvedev and Obama have said the new arms deal should cut stockpiles below those in the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), under which both sides are to cut their arsenals to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads by 2012.
Russia has said it wants to link the nuclear talks to U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile shield in Europe and has pushed for the United States to put a limit on the number of delivery systems -- the rockets or other means that deliver weapons.
Washington and Moscow hope that if they can agree to a successor to START by December, this will strengthen their hand in pushing for an updated Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Obama’s administration was credited this month with helping 189 countries agree on the agenda for an overhaul of the treaty.
Additional reporting by David Alexander in Washington; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Eric Walsh
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