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Russia: Agreement With US Over Nukes Proceeding With 'Difficulty' - 2002-03-16

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has said a formal agreement with the United States on reducing nuclear arms is possible. However, he said, many differences still remain between the two sides on the issue.

Foreign Minister Ivanov said he hopes the United States and Russia can still reach agreement on reducing stockpiles of long-range nuclear warheads. But in an interview with Russian media on Saturday, Mr. Ivanov said talks on the issue are "proceeding with some difficulties."

U.S. and Russian officials have met several times to formalize commitments made by the presidents of both countries to substantially reduce nuclear stockpiles. A new round of talks is scheduled to begin next week in Geneva.

Last December, President Bush said the United States would cut its arsenal by two-thirds, to around 2,000. Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would go even further, to about 1,500 warheads.

Later, however, the United States said it wanted to store the warheads taken out of service, rather than destroy them. This appears to be one of the problems holding up an agreement.

Russia also opposes the U.S. plan to build an anti-missile defense shield, a project that led Washington to unilaterally back out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, signed with the Soviet Union in 1972.

The foreign minister's comments came a day after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov returned to Moscow from Washington, where he met President Bush and other top U.S. officials.

The defense minister was more cautious in his comments about the arms control issue, saying his visit had failed to break the impasse, but that talks would continue.

Both sides are under pressure to finalize a deal by the time President Bush travels.