US, Russia launch nuclear arms reduction pact

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Munich (Germany), Feb 5 (AFP) US Secretary of StateHillary Clinton launched a landmark nuclear arms reductionpact with Russia today, a showpiece of Washington''s "reset" ofties with its former Cold War enemy.

The new START nuclear arms reduction treaty officiallycame into force when Clinton and Russian counterpart SergeiLavrov exchanged ratification documents at a securityconference in the German city of Munich.

"Today we exchange the instruments of ratification for atreaty that lessens the nuclear danger facing the Russian andAmerican people and the world," Clinton said.

The chief US diplomat hailed the pact as another exampleof "clear-eyed" cooperation between the two military powers,"part of a journey we have been taking for more than 60years."

Lavrov told the Munich conference that the agreementwould "enhance international stability."

US Vice President Joe Biden used the same gathering oftop defence officials in 2009 to state Washington''s desire topress the "reset" button in relations with Russia, which hadcooled under the presidency of George W. Bush.

"When it comes to the button that has worried us the mostover the years -- the one that would unleash nucleardestruction -- today we take another step to ensure that itwill never be pushed," Clinton said.

The US administration has touted the new Strategic ArmsReduction Treaty as a key element in improving ties withMoscow as well as a major step in US President Barack Obama''svision of a world free of atomic weapons.

The pact slashes existing warhead ceilings by 30 percentover the next 10 years and limits each side to 700 deployedlong-range missiles and heavy bombers.

The original 1991 pact expired at the end of 2009 amidstark differences over how the two sides planned to proceed.

Many analysts see the new round of cuts as largelysymbolic, however, because the chances of these heavylong-range weapons being used today are negligible.

But the pact provides an important starting point for farmore pertinent discussions concerning smaller -- butpotentially more dangerous -- nuclear weapons and otherhigh-tech arms.

The United States and Russia possess 90 per cent of theworld''s nuclear weapons.

Clinton said she would discuss "further arms controlissues" with Lavrov, including on stocks of short- andmedium-range missiles and non-deployed nuclear weapons.

The new START treaty will restore vital weaponsverifications procedures and require the two sides to try tofind a compromise over their diverging views on NATO''sdecision to erect a missile shield in Europe. (AFP)

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