New US-Russia nuclear deal ‘soon’
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says there has been “substantial” progress on a new nuclear disarmament deal with Russia.
In Moscow, Mrs Clinton and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov said a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) should be finalised soon.
The nations are trying to replace the 1991 Start that expired in December.
Mrs Clinton is attending two days of talks in Moscow, including a key meeting on the Middle East on Friday.
Iran is also a major issue, with the US and Russia publicly disagreeing on the planned opening of an Iranian nuclear power station.
Russian Foreign Minister Mr Lavrov said at a joint press conference with Mrs Clinton that Moscow and Washington were in the final stage of a new Start.
Mrs Clinton said: “The results of the latest negotiation rounds lead us to believe we’ll be reaching a final agreement soon.”
The US is said to have more than 2,000 strategic nuclear weapons, while Russia is believed to have nearly 3,000. Both sides have agreed to cut the number of warheads they hold to between 1,500 and 1,675 each.
But there have been disagreements on verification measures, how to count weapons and launch systems.
Mrs Clinton said in the past year the US and Russia had worked hard to “reset” damaged bilateral relations.
The BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Moscow says that although no date was given, it looks likely the new Start will be signed before President Barack Obama hosts a big nuclear disarmament conference in April.
Our correspondent says relations between Russia and the US are much better than a year ago, but Mr Obama still has little concrete to show from the “reset” policy and badly needs the new treaty.
Mrs Clinton arrived in Moscow on Wednesday for talks on Thursday and Friday.
She will be joined by US Middle East envoy George Mitchell on Friday when talks take place between the Mid-East Quartet – the US, Russia, the UN and EU – with the current row over Israeli settlement plans for Jerusalem a key issue.
US officials have confirmed Mrs Clinton has added a meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday as part of her visit. She is already meeting President Dmitry Medvedev.
The Iranian nuclear issue is likely to be high on her agenda.
On Thursday, Mr Putin said Iran’s first nuclear power plant, which Russia is building at Bushehr, could come on line as early as this summer.
At the Moscow news conference, Mrs Clinton said Iran was entitled to nuclear energy but that it had failed to give the world reassurances on the nuclear weapons issue.
She said: “In the absence of those reassurances, we think it would be premature to go forward with any project at this time.”
Mr Lavrov insisted the Bushehr plant played a special role in “ensuring that Iran is complying with its non-proliferation obligations”.
Iran denies pursuing nuclear weapons, saying its programme is for purely peaceful, energy purposes.
On the Middle East, the Quartet will on Friday discuss the peace process, which has been damaged by the settlements row.
The crisis erupted last week when Israel announced the construction of 1,600 more homes in East Jerusalem just as US Vice-President Joe Biden was making a high-profile visit to the region.
The US was infuriated and officials say Mrs Clinton is still awaiting a call from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to clarify Israel’s response.
Asked about the call at the news conference, Mrs Clinton said: “When I have anything to say, I’ll inform you.”