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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nuclear Concerns Bring Defense Chiefs Together

SERGIYEV POSAD, Central Russia -- Defense chiefs from Russia and the United States sought to put their differences over Iraq to one side Friday and underscored their cooperation on nuclear safety and arms control.

Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev unexpectedly joined visiting U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen at a ground-breaking ceremony at a nuclear-safety training site in the snow-decked countryside near the old town of Sergiyev Posad northeast of Moscow.

"This is a superb example of cooperation on a central issue," said Cohen, who arrived in Moscow on Wednesday and was scheduled to leave later Friday.

"This is a perfect example of how we can have disagreements on various issues but that our relationship is one that transcends any specific issue," he added.

He said nuclear security and safety and arms cuts were vital areas of cooperation that "must continue and will continue."

Sergeyev also went to pains to stress the positive during the ceremony at the U.S.-funded, Russian-run Nuclear Assessment and Training Center.

He noted there had been no accidents during the complex dismantling of nuclear weapons under the START-1 strategic weapons accord. He put this down to U.S.-Russian cooperation.

"It takes a lot of effort. I think that cooperation between our ministries, the Department of Defense of the United States and the Ministry of Defense of Russia, will continue," he said.

Sergeyev had not been scheduled to attend the ceremony at the site, where U.S. specialists train Russian troops in, among other things, how to secure nuclear weapons sites against infiltration and how to use special containers for dismantled warheads.

The site is part of an annual $400 million U.S. program to foster nuclear security and help dismantle atomic weapons.

Cohen and Sergeyev spent 20 minutes in a freezing warehouse inspecting equipment, including a railway wagon with fire-resistant coating, metal containers to hold warheads in transit and armored blankets which are wrapped around munitions on the move.

The officials also left reporters behind to visit a nearby building where training takes place. U.S. officials said a group of polygraph -- "lie detector" -- specialists from Maryland were there showing Russians how to use the equipment in "personnel reliability" tests.

Sergeant First Class John Newcomb, who once served in military intelligence and is based at the U.S. Embassy, is among the team setting up training sessions for the Russians.

"Eight years ago I was training to kill these folks. Now we are trying to work with them," he said. "I'm doing my tiny little part getting the nuclear threat down to a manageable level.