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Russian Foreign Minister Clarifies Position on Arms Treaty

Russia's foreign minister says the country has agreed to the new U.S.-Russian arms control treaty, but reiterated it reserves the right to withdraw from the pact if a planned U.S. missile defense system puts his country at a disadvantage.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia will issue a statement outlining the terms for such a withdrawal after President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sign the new arms-control treaty Thursday in Prague.

Lavrov has said before that Russia could withdraw from the treaty, but his comments at a briefing Tuesday were more specific on how and why a withdrawal could occur.

Mr. Lavrov says Russia has the right to abandon the agreement if a quantitative and qualitative buildup of the United States' strategic anti-missile potential begins to significantly affect the efficiency of Russia's strategic nuclear forces. He went on to say that Russia will determine this degree of influence.

While the latest draft of the treaty scraps the previous U.S. administration's plans for missile-defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, Moscow expressed concern about a possible facility in Romania.

Lavrov said the site in Romania poses no immediate threat, but Russia could opt out of the new treaty if U.S. missile interceptors become capable of striking Russia's strategic missiles.

Russia's foreign minister said the new agreement will be the first arms-control treaty to make the parties fully equal. He says Russia shares Obama's goal of a nuclear-free world, but other nations must join the disarmament process, as well.

Lavrov says Russia believes the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons is very important. But it is clear that it is impossible to move toward that goal in a vacuum, without paying attention to what is going on in the field of security, he says. We are convinced that in order to speak seriously about practical steps toward a world without nuclear weapons, one must pay attention to a whole series of factors that could potentially destabilize global strategic stability.

The new accord replaces the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that expired in December. The talks on a treaty successor had dragged on for nearly a year.

They were stymied most recently by Russia's demand for an explicit link between strategic-arms cuts and development of the U.S. missile-defense system. The U.S. Senate opposes any restrictions on the shield.