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Russia says hopes for prompt US nuclear deal

Russia's foreign minister said on Friday an agreement will be reached soon on a landmark nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States.

Sergei Lavrov's comments were Moscow's strongest public statement yet on a deal.

“The remaining questions, I hope, will be resolved rather promptly when the negotiations resume, and they will resume at the very beginning of February, I think,” Lavrov told reporters.

His confident words indicate an agreement is imminent between the two Cold War foes on a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I).

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev laid out plans last year for the new treaty between the two largest nuclear powers.

It is a key element of efforts to mend relations between Washington and Moscow, which plunged to post-Cold War lows after Russia's brief war with pro-Western Georgia in 2008.

Negotiators were unable to reach agreement by December 5, when START I expired, and official negotiations in Geneva have not resumed after a break over the holiday period. A top US official had indicated earlier this month that they would resume on January 25.

But high-level consultations on the treaty resumed last week, and two top US officials, national security adviser James Jones and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, travelled to Moscow this week for talks.

Lavrov said Jones and his Russian counterpart were expected to give the negotiators instructions that would help reach compromises. He did not say what remains in dispute or precisely when a final agreement might be reached.

Both sides have said they want the treaty signed in time to set an example for a global conference in May that they hope will bolster efforts to combat nuclear weapons proliferation.

The US ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle, suggested on Wednesday that agreement could be reached in “the very near future.”

Such an agreement must be ratified by lawmakers in both countries to take effect.

In July, Obama and Medvedev agreed that the new treaty should cut the number of nuclear warheads on each side to between 1,500 and 1,675, and the number of delivery vehicles to between 500 and 1,100.

Officials have said recently that issues still being negotiated included monitoring and verification measures. (Reuters)