Russia sets out lines as arms pact takes effect

MOSCOW Mon Feb 7, 2011 11:50pm IST

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's chief negotiator on a new nuclear arms treaty with the United States outlined tough conditions for further reductions on Monday, stressing Moscow's demand for an equal say in creating a European missile shield.

Speaking two days after the United States and Russia put the New START treaty into force, Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov made clear that deeper cuts in the world's largest atomic arsenals would not come easy.

He suggested the Kremlin's mood for more disarmament -- and the overall tone of ties between the former Cold War foes -- will depend greatly on whether Western powers give Russia a satisfactory role in a system to protect Europe against missile threats.

Missile defence is "a kind of litmus test that will allow us to see whether NATO nations and the United States are ready for open, honest and equal, parity-based cooperation," Antonov told a news conference.

New START, signed by Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev in April and put into force on Saturday after approval by U.S. and Russian lawmakers, limits each nation to 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and 800 delivery systems by 2018.

The pact is the linchpin of a "reset" -- initiated by Obama and embraced by Medvedev -- that has improved ties between Moscow and Washington, which hit a post-Cold War low with Moscow's 2008 war against pro-Western Georgia.

"New START really is a new start in our relations," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the same news conference. "Now it is important for us not to slow the pace, and to move further on this positive agenda."

But before making any more nuclear cuts, Ryabkov and Antonov said, Russia would like reassurances on an array of potential security threats from conventional arms to weapons in space and the nuclear arsenals of other nations like Britain and China.

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Antonov put missile defence developed without Russian participation at the top of a list of potential threats to Russian security.

Obama pleased Moscow by revising a Bush-era plan for a European missile shield that Russia vehemently opposed, but Moscow says the new plan still could eventually weaken Russia's offensive arsenal and upset the balance of power.

Antonov reiterated a Russian statement that that it could withdraw from New START if that happens. He expressed confidence that it would not come to that, but said cooperation on missile defence was essential.

The United States and NATO are trying to avert confrontation by offering Russia a role in the creation of a European missile shield. Medvedev welcomed the invitation at a November summit and outlined a proposal giving Russia a robust role.

"It must be a joint system, with certain agreements on division of responsibility, with data exchanges, with decision-making in such as way that we are an equal, responsible participant on a level with the others," Ryabkov said.

Ryabkov reiterated Russia's call for the United States to withdraw its remaining tactical nuclear weapons from Europe as a starting point for negotiations on cutting the shorter-range arms.

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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