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Russia, U.S. begin warhead talks

The fate of hundreds of nuclear warheads is to be discussed  

MOSCOW, Russia -- Senior U.S. and Russian defence officials have begun talks on nuclear arms cuts and whether the weapons should be stored or destroyed.

U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith met privately with Russia's first deputy chief of staff, Col. Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, on Tuesday in the opening talks.

No details of the discussions were expected to be revealed until the end of the two-day summit on Wednesday, but they are likely to focus on the future of scrapped warheads.

The United States has said it intends storing any agreed reduction in the number of nuclear warheads, but Russia wants the warheads destroyed.

Both countries have pledged to reduce their stockpiles of deployed strategic nuclear arsenals by about two-thirds over the coming decade.

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But the Pentagon said last week that some U.S. arms would be shelved for possible emergency redeployment.

The Russian Foreign Ministry urged Washington to fulfill pledges to proceed with real cuts, saying, "That means strategic nuclear weapons must be cut not only "on paper."

Baluyevsky added: "The question arises as to how many warheads will be stored and how many will be destroyed.

"If they store the whole difference between the current 6,000 warheads and 1,700 to 2,200 warheads, then it is unclear what the radical reduction will be about."

A senior U.S. diplomat said he believed a deal could be reached to pacify Russian concerns.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov agreed in Brussels last month to begin planning on when and how to begin cuts promised by their presidents, including "predictability and accountability" on the cuts.

The U.S. President George W. Bush has vowed to cut his country's deployed arsenal to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads, while Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he plans cuts that would leave between 1,500 and 2,200.

The United States and Russia are each permitted to have 6,000 warheads under the START I treaty.

Baluyevsky said the parameters of future strategic offensive arms reductions and verification mechanisms would be drawn up by the summer when the two leaders are due to meet in Moscow.

He added missile defence and Bush's announcement that the United States would withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty this year would also be on the agenda this week.


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