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4 Feb, 2009 22:34

Obama wants nukes cut by 80% – report

Barack Obama is calling for ambitious arms reduction talks with Russia. According to the Times newspaper, the new US President wants to cut each country’s nuclear arsenal by 80 per cent.

The radical step would reduce the number of nuclear warheads to 1,000 on each side, the paper says.

U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said Washington hopes to hold talks with Moscow on reducing nuclear weapons in the near future.

Obama is to establish a non-proliferation office at the White House to oversee the talks, which will be headed by Gary Samore – a non-proliferation negotiator in the Clinton Administration. Hillary Clinton’s State Department will guide the process.

Obama is also to review the Bush Administration’s plan for a US missile defence shield in Eastern Europe, a project strongly opposed by Moscow.

Moscow says the proposed system is a direct threat to Russia’s national security. No final decision on the defence shield has reportedly been taken in Washington.

Talks with the US on nuclear arms reduction will make sense for Russia only if its concerns over the proposed missile shield programme are also considered, said Russian general-Colonel Viktor Yesin, former head of the country’s Joint Staff. He says Russia must push the US to shelve plans for its missile shield.

However, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin says Obama's proposal sends a positive signal.

“This proposal and President Obama's plans are a fresh signal that must be developed in direct talks between the Russian Foreign Minister and the U.S. Secretary of State, and between military experts,” he said

Also, The Times quotes Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov as saying:

“We welcome the statements from the new Obama Administration that they are ready to enter into talks and complete within a year, in this very confined timeframe, the signing of a new Russian-US treaty on the limitation of strategic attack weapons.”

The current treaty signed in 1991 by the Soviet Union and US – Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) – expires in December. It reduced stockpiles for both from 10,000 to 5,000.

And a new treaty could become a new start.

“I think the Obama Administration is keen to reach out to Moscow. It doesn’t see Russia as a country that it needs to have problems with,” says Tony Halpin, Times Online Moscow Bureau’s chief.

Still, Konstantin Kosachyov, who heads the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, said that Russia has yet to receive any official proposal from Washington.

Meanwhile, the lower house of the Czech parliament has postponed a vote on whether to accept a U.S. missile defence radar on its soil.

It has been delayed because U.S. president Barack Obama has not announced whether he intends to proceed with missile shield plans in Eastern Europe.