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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. and Russia Will Discuss Missiles

WASHINGTON- Top U.S. and Russian officials will meet in Washington this week to discuss arms control and probe Moscow's intentions on arms sales to Iran, a U.S. official said Tuesday.

U.S. concerns about arms sales to the Middle East region, already heightened by the crisis in the peace process, increased when Russia decided to withdraw effective this Friday from a 1995 pact not to sell conventional arms to Iran.

The United States views Iran as a "state of concern" for its active nuclear weapons program and would consider sanctions under U.S. law against Russian companies or the government if sales of advanced conventional technology occurred.

The United States is sending experts to Moscow next week to find out more about Russia's intentions toward Iran, which is on a U.S. list of alleged state sponsors of terrorism for its financial support to the Shiite Muslim Hizbollah guerrilla group.

But first on Thursday and Friday, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott will have a chance to question Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov about plans for sales to Iran and to send Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev to Tehran, possibly in January.

Their meetings could be seen as exit talks, with Talbott anxious to keep open a useful channel as President Bill Clinton prepares to hand over power to his successor Jan. 20, said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But the talks also represent a chance to discuss Russian transfers to Iran, whose missile program fed into U.S. consideration of a proposed National Missile Defense (NMD) to shield against missile attack from countries also including North Korea and Iraq.

While Moscow has said it will stick to its international obligations in sales to Iran, it wants to make money from a lucrative market at a time of high oil prices, and appears to be taking advantage of the delay in determining Clinton's successor in the White House.

A diplomatic source said this was an easy time for Russia to bark at the United States "because it's a relatively low-cost gesture." He added, "Come Jan. 20, their opportunity cost goes way up for that kind of behavior."

BALLISTIC MISSILE SHIELD AT STAKE

Talbott and Mamedov have held many rounds of talks about how best to reduce each side's nuclear arsenal while keeping their strategic defenses, without escalating the arms race.

So far, Talbott has failed to persuade Moscow to amend the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 so that the United States can build NMD, which would use missiles to shoot down missiles.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Nov. 21 repeated his country's position that it opposed changing the ABM, which is seen as the cornerstone of international arms treaties.

Critics say changing the ABM to allow the United States to build new missiles could have a proliferative effect.

The United States says it has no choice but to use its technological prowess to protect its citizens as best it can, and that the system does not represent a threat to other countries.

Clinton deferred to his successor a decision on building the system, after unsuccessful tests. The two presidential aspirants, Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore, both favor some kind of NMD, although Bush has said his version would be broader in scope.

Russia has floated various ideas for the delicate strategic arms equation, including cutting its arsenal to below the 1,500 warheads already under discussion.

Talbott will also try to find out more about an idea floated this month by Russia's nuclear-missile forces chief for a new ABM index under which any country that boosted its missile defenses would have to cut its ability to attack.