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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bolton Cautious on Arms Talks

Wrapping up two days of talks in Russia, U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton on Tuesday hedged on whether the two sides had moved any closer to an agreement on a proposed strategic nuclear arms cut.

"At the moment I don't see any insuperable obstacles to achieving an agreement by May," Bolton said when questioned at a news conference. He added, however, that disagreements over a number of issues may yet stop a deal from being reached before U.S. President George Bush's planned visit to Moscow on May 23.

Bush and President Vladimir Putin agreed in principle to reduce their countries' nuclear stockpiles during Putin's visit to Bush's Texas ranch last November. Putin pressed for a formal agreement. The White House initially insisted on an informal deal, but has since indicated it was willing to sign a legally binding document. One of the main sticking points is the Pentagon's plan to store decommissioned warheads instead of destroying them.

Last December, the White House announced Washington would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty so it could proceed with the creation of a national missile defense system.

Putin's military adviser Igor Sergeyev on Tuesday reiterated Moscow's misgivings about the missile defense program, saying the two sides should "codify mutual understandings and guarantees," The Associated Press reported.

The United States says it has no intention of limiting its proposed missile shield, aimed at fending off threats from what it calls "states of concern."

"We will not go about starting a process that limits our national missile defense," Bolton said.

An agreement on a new strategic framework also was on the agenda of the talks between Bolton's team and a Russian contingent headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov.

Bolton said he met Tuesday afternoon with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Nuclear Power Minister Alexander Rumyantsev and Yury Koptev, head of the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, to report on the talks. A first round of talks in preparation for the summit took place last month in Washington.

Also Tuesday, a U.S. congressional delegation met with State Duma deputies in Moscow to discuss plans for an agreement on combating terrorism.

Meanwhile, in the first sign of a possible rift between Russia and Iran, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi postponed an official visit to Russia that was to have started on Tuesday due to "coordination problems in the foreign minister's agenda," Reuters reported.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said the reason for the delay was "the need to work out certain questions in bilateral cooperation."

According to Reuters, Kharrazi spoke publicly of the trip as late as Monday, saying he planned to discuss the U.S. position toward Iran and the issue of Afghanistan.

Last month, Bush said Iran was part of an "axis of evil" that included Iraq and North Korea. His words drew harsh denunciations in all three states and were also criticized in Russia and other European countries.

Bolton refused to comment on Kharrazi's decision to postpone his visit.