Weapons Talks Fail To Yield Consensus

Moscow and Washington are no closer to resolving their serious disagreements over missile defenses in Europe, arms control treaties and other major issues, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Monday.

Speaking hours after Russian officials met in Moscow with a U.S. delegation, Ryabkov told reporters that the Russian side was satisfied with the current round of talks.

"On key issues we didn't succeed in bringing our approaches any closer," Ryabkov said. "But this wasn't unexpected."

The United States says its plans for missile shield installations in Poland and the Czech Republic would counter a potential threat from Iran. Russia claims the real aim is to weaken its nuclear deterrent.

Russia is already pressuring the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to scrap the missile defense plan, and has threatened to deploy missiles near the Polish border.

Monday's talks also dealt with efforts to negotiate a follow-up pact to the 1991 START I nuclear disarmament treaty, which expires at the end of next year.

"We have reached an understanding with the current U.S. administration that we need a new treaty replacing the existing one," Ryabkov said in an interview with Kommersant published ahead of Monday's talks. "There is a chance to finalize a new document by December 2009."

The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, signed by Moscow and Washington in July 1991, has committed both sides to cutting the number of their missiles and strategic bombers to 1,600 each. Both sides met limits set by the treaty by December 2001.

Considerations on what should follow the START I have been marred by growing differences between Moscow and Washington on arms control issues.

In December 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush announced that the United States was withdrawing from a 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, another keynote arms control pact which limited the right of both sides to set up missile defense systems.

Russia has denounced the U.S. decision -- intended to enable Washington's plans to create a global missile defense system -- as a breach of global strategic balance.

Washington's subsequent moves to install elements of a missile defense system in Eastern Europe have become the worst irritant in bilateral relations for years.

Russia rejects U.S. reasoning that interceptor missiles in the Czech Republic and a radar in Poland are needed to avert potential missile strikes from Iran.

Moscow says the project is targeted against it, and has vowed to respond by deploying own missiles in the westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad bordering NATO members Poland and Lithuania.

John Rood, the acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security who headed the U.S. delegation, agreed the talks did not yield any breakthroughs, but he insisted they were useful for hearing Russian concerns.

"It's important from our perspective that the US and Russia remain in detailed talks on these subjects," he told The Associated Press.