Russia seeks formal arms treaty to replace START

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MOSCOW, Nov 28 (Reuters) Russia today said the landmark Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) must be replaced with a formal, binding pact when it expires in 2009 and not the informal arrangement that the United States proposes.

The START pact, signed in Moscow in 1991, set ceilings on the size of the Russian and US nuclear arsenals and became a symbol of the end of the Cold War.

US President George W Bush's administration plans to let it expire and replace it with a less formal agreement that eliminates strict verification requirements.

Russian news agencies quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying that would not be sufficient.

''If everything finally boils down only to transparency and mutual confidence measures, if no curbs are imposed on the creation of new missiles and new nuclear weapons, then this will be our common failure,'' Lavrov was quoted as saying.

''So right now we are struggling to make sure that the document that replaces the START treaty should establish lower ceilings not only for nuclear payloads but for the missiles carrying them as well.'' Lavrov said the present-day START treaty had failed to resolve a major task -- that of reducing the number of missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

''The Moscow (START) treaty covers only those nuclear warheads that are in combat readiness,'' he said. ''But if they are not deployed but are just kept in depots, it means you may have as many of them as you want.'' Reuters SW DS330

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