Russia, US may sign strategic arms reduction treaty by 2009: Kremlin

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Moscow, Apr 5 (UNI) Ahead of the talks between US President George W Bush and outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi tomorrow, a top Kremlin official today said the two countries may sign a new nuclear arms reduction treaty by the end of 2009.

''The Americans want to reduce everything to extend the Moscow 2002 Treaty, supplementing it with some confidence building measures and measures to enhance transparency,'' Putin's aide on foreign affairs Sergei Prikhodko told RIA Novosti news agency.

Prikhodko also said, attempts are being made to apply limitations only to 'operationally deployed warheads,' adding in this case warheads in storage would remain outside the framework of the future agreement.

''We have never agreed with such an approach. Therefore, for an agreement to be reached, the US side needs to make a real change in its position,'' he said.

Prikhodko, however, pointed out that one positive development was that the US side ''has reaffirmed its readiness to make the future treaty replacing START-I a legally binding document.'' He noted that issue of warheads was the main stumbling block.

''We believe that the number of warheads in storage should be clearly determined and reflected in the document, then only everything will be transparent and clear,'' he said.

If we continue working and make an extra effort, the document could be finalised by the end of 2009, he said.

Bush and Putin are expected to meet for an informal dinner today and will begin negotiations tomorrow.

Bush will also meet Russian President-elect Dmitry Medvedev, who is set to take over in the Kremlin on May 7 when Putin steps down.

The presidents' talks, a continuation of their meeting at the NATO summit which Putin attended as a guest in Bucharest, are again likely to focus on missile defense and NATO expansion.

The agenda will also include a broader strategic security deal between the two countries.

UNI XC SLD HT1718

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