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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Race Is On to Clinch Arms Cuts Pact

As U.S. and Russian negotiators met Tuesday to prepare an agreement on nuclear arms cuts before next month's summit, Russia's top arms control experts spoke out against the deal, saying it would require bowing to U.S. demands.

U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton and a group of U.S. negotiators met Monday and Tuesday with Russian counterparts led by Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov -- the latest in a series of arms control consultations in recent months.

"The relationship between the United States and Russia has fundamentally changed. And I think that the summit will reflect that change in relationship regardless of what documents we have to sign," Bolton told Associated Press Television News on Tuesday.

"Nonetheless, we are working as hard as we can to show as much of that progress in the agreement form as we can," he said.

U.S. President George W. Bush has promised to cut the U.S. arsenal to 1,700 to 2,200 strategic nuclear warheads, while President Vladimir Putin has said Russia could go even lower, to 1,500 warheads from the current 6,000 that each country is currently allowed under the 1991 START I treaty. Bush initially favored an informal deal, but later acceded to Putin's push to formalize the cuts in a legally binding agreement.

However, talks have been thorny because of Moscow's objection to the Pentagon's decision to stockpile decommissioned nuclear weapons rather than destroy them.

The Foreign Ministry, in a statement issued as the talks got under way Monday, said Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had spoken by telephone Monday about progress in securing the accord.

Retired Major-General Vladimir Dvorkin, who helped prepare previous arms control treaties with the United States, warned Tuesday that a nuclear deal at mid-May's Putin-Bush summit could not be reached "without Russia making major concessions."

"It would be a bad agreement if President Putin just signs under U.S. nuclear policy," he told a news conference.

Dvorkin and some other top arms control analysts advised Putin against signing an agreement on nuclear cuts in May and said that Russia must try to negotiate a better deal.

"It's better not to sign any treaty than to sign a bad one," said Sergei Kortunov of the Foreign Policy Association.

Kortunov predicted that overall U.S.-Russian relations, bolstered by Putin's support for the U.S.-led war on terror, would remain strong even if a nuclear treaty isn't signed in May.

Dvorkin said the U.S. administration ignored Russian complaints about stockpiling nuclear weapons because the Russian military plans to unilaterally cut its nuclear forces below the U.S. levels with or without a nuclear arms agreement with Washington.

The plan, which Dvorkin called "mad," would significantly reduce the number of Russia's land-based strategic missiles in a fund-saving effort, making it impossible for Russia to stockpile the same number of weapons as the United States.

A compromise will only be possible if Russia drops its current nuclear doctrine and "prove its ability to stockpile its own nuclear weapons," Dvorkin said.

Western analysts believe that the need to consolidate post-Cold War relations and rejuvenate disarmament, stalled since the early 1990s, will probably spur both sides to overcome their differences and sign the pact next month.

"The forthcoming summit ... could become a turning point in building a new strategic relationship between the two nations, but its failure would deal a serious blow to Russia-America relations," the Carnegie Endowment think tank and Russia's Center for Political Studies said in a statement issued last week.

(AP, Reuters)