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Russia, US 2+2 talks to be held on March 17-18 in Moscow

A 2+2 meeting between Russian and US foreign and defense ministers will be held in Moscow on March 17-18, a high ranking official in the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

The official said that the talks will focus on US plans to deploy elements of its missile shield in Central Europe, Russia’s unilateral moratorium on the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty and on a new strategic arms reduction treaty to replace START-I, which expires in December 2009. “Our American partners will deliver proposals on confidence measures, allowing the presence of Russian officers at missile shield facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland, blocking the radar to prevent it being targeted at Russia and so that the interceptor missiles are not silo-based,” the official said.

The US administration is planning to construct a base for 10 two-stage missile interceptors in Poland, modify its X-band radar on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific and relocate it to the Czech Republic, and to deploy a new forward-based radar to an unspecified location. The official said that “these are measures of transparency and trust,” but added that they are “not resolving the issue of creating a system to monitor missile threats throughout the world. But it still gives us [Russia] the opportunity to see that the United States’ unilateral actions, which Russia objects to, do not pose a direct threat to our country at the given moment,” he said.

Washington wants to deploy its missile shield elements in Central Europe, purportedly to counter a missile threat from Iran and other “rogue” states. Russia has fiercely opposed the plans, saying they threaten its national security. In October 2007, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US State Secretary Condoleezza Rice, and defense chiefs Anatoly Serdyukov and Robert Gates failed to agree on missile defense issues in Moscow.

Speaking about the replacement of the START-I treaty with a new agreement, the official said that it should be a document, which contains obligations for further reduction of strategic offensive arms and preserve controlling measures over them. “They [the Americans] want to restrict themselves to telling us [Russia] only what they will do,” the official said. “This is the arms race in its pure form. We hope we will be able to stop the unique START-I treaty from disappearing.” The START-I treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union on July 31, 1991, five months before the Soviet Union collapsed, and remains in force between the US, Russia, and three other ex-Soviet states.

The three former Soviet republics, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, have since disposed of all their nuclear weapons or transferred them to Russia, and the US and Russia have reduced the number of delivery vehicles to 1,600, with no more than 6,000 warheads. The current treaty is set to expire on December 5, 2009. (rian.ru)