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Top Russian official warns of arms legal vacuum

MOSCOW, Dec 16 (Reuters) - A top Russian official said in an interview broadcast on Sunday that Moscow and Washington had to work hard to draft agreements to fill the legal vacuum created by the U.S. intention to withdraw from the ABM treaty.

Igor Sergeyev, President Vladimir Putin's adviser on strategic issues, said world stability depended on both sides coming to an agreement on a new framework for relations setting limits to the anti-missile system Washington wanted to build.

"The most dangerous thing now is the legal vacuum in which we now find ourselves up until what I think will be June 13 under the six months' notice period," Sergeyev told RTR state television.

"In this period until the United States withdraws from the treaty, I believe both sides should do their utmost to replace ABM, to lay out matters, to draw up a new framework for relations with the United States and come up with concrete elements to safeguard stability throughout the world..."

Sergeyev, a former defence minister, said agreements would have to establish "agreed approaches to offensive and defensive systems. I believe limits to anti-missile systems must be set down so that we understand that they are truly set down."

Russia had long opposed U.S. President George W. Bush's contention that ABM was outmoded and had to be abandoned to take account of missile threats from "rogue states" like Iran, Iraq and North Korea,

Putin described Bush's announcement last week as a mistake, but said it would not affect Russian security and renewed proposals to cut Moscow's strategic nuclear arms arsenal.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has since described the move as a purely political decision.

In his interview, recorded on Saturday, Sergeyev said U.S. planners could not say what form the missile shield would take, but it was safe to assume it would involve the use of space.

That, he said, meant that negotiators would have difficulty "producing a framework for imposing limits."

Yevgeny Primakov, former Russian prime minister and foreign minister, told the same television programme that the U.S. move was "a serious error" which failed to take account of Russia's support for the U.S. anti-terror operation in Afghanistan.

"The events of September 11 created a new situation which should have been put to good use and assessed once again," Primakov said. "This is going along an old path."

Primakov said Russia would now be fully entitled to revise its commitments to fulfil other international arms pacts, including the START-2 treaty on reducing strategic arsenals.

"I don't think we should be in any hurry to do this," he said. "But in any event, they are pushing us towards retaliatory measures of some sort. And that is not reasonable.

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