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Russia rules out nuclear arms cut while U.S. shield plans unclear


MOSCOW, June 5 (RIA Novosti) - Russia will not cut its nuclear arsenal while the U.S. missile defense plans for Europe remain unclear, the chief of the General Staff said on Friday.

"We have left the Missile Forces practically unchanged [during military reforms]," Gen. Nikolai Makarov said. "As long as the situation in the world, including with the U.S. missile shield plans, remain unclear, we will not alter our nuclear arsenal."

Experts believe that controversy over U.S. plans for a missile shield in Europe may prevent Washington and Moscow from striking a new strategic arms reduction deal before yearend.

Russia opposes Washington's plans to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a tracking radar in the Czech Republic as a threat to its security. The United States says the shield elements are needed to counter possible strikes from rogue states such as Iran.

Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, expressed hope on Thursday that the new U.S. administration would revise its missile shield plans before the visit of President Barack Obama to Moscow in early July.

"The leading American scientists voiced skepticism over the missile shield, everybody says it is not beneficial for the U.S. either from a political or military-technical standpoint," Rogozin said on Ekho Moskvy radio station.

"We hope the U.S. plans will be finalized before Barack Obama's visit to Russia, and disclosed during talks with the Russian president," he said.

Russian and U.S. negotiators have held two rounds of full-format talks on a replacement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1), which is set to expire on December 5, 2009, and agreed to report the first results of the work on a new treaty at a Russian-U.S. summit in Moscow.

START 1, signed in 1991, obliges Russia and the United States to reduce nuclear warheads to 6,000 and their delivery vehicles to 1,600 each. In 2002, a follow-up agreement on strategic offensive arms reduction was concluded in Moscow. The agreement, known as the Moscow Treaty, envisioned cuts to 1,700-2,200 warheads by December 2012.

According to a report published by the U.S. 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 stated the United States had 5,576 warheads and 1,198 delivery vehicles.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his U.S. counterpart, Barack Obama, agreed during their London meeting in early April on an immediate start to talks on a new strategic arms reduction treaty.

Moscow, which proposed a new arms reduction agreement with Washington in 2005, expects the United States to agree on a deal that would restrict not only the numbers of nuclear warheads but also place limits on all existing kinds of delivery vehicles.

Moscow also insists on the effective use of control mechanisms and procedures, "which the previous administration ignored categorically," according to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

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