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Russia concerned by US position on START- deputy foreign minister

Moscow, 19 December: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov has said that the US approach to strategic offensive arms control could lead to an unpredictable situation.

The Russian Foreign Ministry on Friday (19 December) made public Ryabkov's commentary on the final round of Russian-American strategic dialogue involving representatives of the George Bush administration, which was held in Moscow.

The commentary says that "the implementation of the approach which is being proposed by the USA could strip our bilateral relations of a key element - predictability in strategic offensive arms control, and could seriously destabilize the strategic situation".

Ryabkov noted that "while concluding the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), the parties proceeded from the understanding that they had no opportunity to monitor the true equipment of the other side's missiles after their launch, whether or not they carried nuclear or other warheads".

"Accordingly, the treaty contains rules for counting strategic offensive arms: each intercontinental ballistic missile or a ballistic missile carried by a submarine has the maximum number of warheads which that missile carried during testing. The system of monitoring compliance is built on these principles," Ryabkov said.

He said that "this does not cancel the general understanding that it (treaty - Interfax) provides for reducing strategic nuclear-missile and not 'conventional' arms".

"But the main current problem is that the USA insists on a radical revision of the basic provisions of START, proposing a reduction of only 'operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads'," Ryabkov said.

He explained that "by doing so, it is planned to strive to take strategic missiles (an indispensable component of strategic offensive arms) beyond the scope of a future treaty. It is proposed to consider strategic missiles themselves as 'conventional arms'".

Ryabkov said that the USA confirmed that arms of this kind are planned to be used to deal with tasks like fighting terrorism and withstanding threats emanating from some "rogue states".

"An approach of this kind, in our view, could substantially erode a new agreement and create opportunities for a concealed build-up of strategic offensive arms and for dodging limitations and the parties' commitments to be agreed," Ryabkov said.

He said that an approach of this kind "would remove the opportunity to monitor not only missiles, but also the warheads they carry and would not make it possible to form an opinion about the true state of the parties' strategic offensive arms".

Furthermore, Ryabkov noted, "during the consultations when the importance of defending the USA and its allies from missile threats was being considered, our partners, while arguing for the importance of deploying a global missile defence (system), insisted that any long-range ballistic missile launched towards US territory would be assessed as weapons of mass destruction". "No comment is necessary here," Ryabkov said.