Chances for new Russia-US arms deal “high”

The United States and Russia begin a sixth round of talks to replace their strategic arms agreement due to expire on December 5. The meeting is taking place in Geneva.

The Russian delegation is headed by Anatoly Antonov, director of the Foreign Ministry's Department of Security and Disarmament, while the US team of negotiators is led by Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller.

Earlier the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov said it was necessary to hold at least four or five more rounds of talks before the treaty’s expiry date.

The talks are being held behind closed doors. They are expected to last for seven days. A preliminary report will be presented to presidents Medvedev and Obama at their meeting in New York on September 23.

The talks come just several days after the US announced last week a major shift in its missile shield plans for Eastern Europe, saying they are not relevant for the moment.

Moscow and Washington signed the mutually binding strategic arms agreement, known as START-1, in 1991, and an additional agreement in 2002.

In April this year, presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama agreed to continue to cut their nuclear arsenals.

Ahead of the talks, President Medvedev estimated the chances to reach an agreement with the United States by the end of 2009 as “high enough”.

“If we agree on it by the end of this year – and the chances for this are rather high – then it would be something really helpful for us and the international community,” Medvedev told CNN.

Later, during Barack Obama’s visit to Moscow this July the two presidents agreed on the outline of a new deal. This implies cutting their countries' nuclear arsenals to 1,500-1,675 operational warheads and delivery vehicles to 500-1,100.

The exact amount of warheads to be cut is the main divisive issue for the parties.

“We have to settle a lot of issues. It’s a very important document. I wouldn’t like to mention now when and who will announce any concrete figures,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told journalists on September 8.

Meanwhile, The Guardian newspaper reports that Barack Obama is ready to scale down America's nuclear arsenal to hundreds of warheads.

According to the article, the US president has rejected initial disarmament plans drafted by the Pentagon as “too timid”. Instead, Barack Obama is pushing for a drastic revision of the role of nuclear weapons in his defense policy.

According to a report published by the US State Department in April, as of January 1 Russia had 3,909 nuclear warheads and 814 delivery vehicles, including ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBM), and strategic bombers.

The same report said the United States had 5,576 warheads and 1,198 delivery vehicles.