U.S. Stance On Arms Criticized

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov harshly criticized the U.S. stance in arms control talks Friday, saying it could further erode mutual trust and undermine global stability.

The United States and Russia have begun talks on a successor deal to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty which expires in December 2009, but a cold spell in Russia-U.S. relations has stymied talks.

Ryabkov said that Russian and U.S. negotiators have failed to agree on the basic approach as to which weapons should be counted under the new deal.

Russia wants to count missiles, bombers and submarines along with nuclear warheads fitted to them, as was done in the START I treaty, while the United States agrees only to count nuclear warheads, Ryabkov said.

"The implementation of the approach proposed by the American side can strip our bilateral relations of a key element -- predictability in arms control -- and badly destabilize the strategic situation," Ryabkov said in a statement.

U.S. officials argued that missiles, bombers and submarines must not be subject to a nuclear arms control deal because they can also carry conventional weapons.

Ryabkov strongly objected to that, saying when a missile is launched, the target country doesn't know whether it carries a conventional or a nuclear warhead until it lands. That assumption was the basis for the START I treaty, he said.

Ryabkov spoke after a round of arms control talks earlier in the week with a U.S. delegation led by John Rood, the State Department's top arms control official.

Rood told reporters that he got an impression that the Russians were waiting to size up Barack Obama's administration before Moscow advances its position on disputed arms issues.

U.S. Senator Richard Lugar, in Moscow to gauge Russia's stance on arms control, said the issue of counting rules was "worthy of serious discussions."

Colonel-General Nikolai Solovtsov, chief of the Strategic Missile Forces, said the military could cut some prospective weapons programs if Obama's administration reverses course on putting missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. "Several expensive programs will simply become unnecessary for us," Solovtsov said, Interfax reported.