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Clinton arrives in Moscow for talks on nuclear arms, Mideast

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-03-18

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has arrived in Moscow to discuss a new nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia. She will also join a meeting of the Middle East quartet as the US remains locked in a standoff with Israel over settlement activity.

AFP - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Russia Thursday for crucial talks on clinching a new nuclear disarmament treaty between the Cold War foes and smoothing tensions in the Middle East.

The 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) expired in December and negotiators have failed to agree a successor -- to the embarrassment of two powers keen to promote a "reset" in sometimes troubled relations.

Clinton will look to give a fresh impulse to the search in her meetings with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and President Dmitry Medvedev, amid reports negotiations have been hit by serious policy differences.

"The leadership the US and Russia show on this sends an important message about other questions, like non-proliferation," said a senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Clinton arrived early Thursday morning at a Moscow airport.

The official reason for Clinton's two-day visit is a meeting of the Middle East diplomatic quartet, a gathering that has grown in importance after Israel announced the construction of 1,600 new settler homes in annexed East Jerusalem.

Clinton and Lavrov will meet with the other representatives of the quartet, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for dinner Thursday ahead of longer talks on Friday.

The Israeli announcement led the Palestinians to call for a halt to peace talks and precipitated the worst crisis in US-Israeli relations in years, with senior US officials warning the plans jeopardized the peace process.

They also called the announcement's timing an "insult", coming as US Vice President Joe Biden visited the region.

Analysts said that the quartet could be expected to ramp up the pressure on Israel over the issue.

The meeting will "demonstrate international support" for indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians, said US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley who is accompanying Clinton.

Meanwhile, Clinton will also be looking for clear signs Russia could be prepared to back sanctions on Iran if the stalemate continues over Tehran's nuclear programme.

"We feel a sense of urgency, it's time to demonstrate that there are consequences" to Tehran's behaviour, top State Department official William Burns told reporters accompanying Clinton.

Progress on a new nuclear treaty would provide Washington and Moscow with much-needed proof they have succeeded in improving relations after they became mired in distrust under President George W. Bush.

US President Barack Obama and Medvedev had targeted a new agreement by the end of 2009 to drastically reduce nuclear stockpiles but negotiations have lumbered on in Geneva amid reports of stark differences.

Russian and US officials insist the remaining issues are technical and to be expected given the final document will be hundreds of pages long and must be translated in English and Russian without discrepancies.

The New York Times reported last week that Obama was frustrated that Medvedev was linking the disarmament treaty with a dispute on US plans to install missile defence facilities in Eastern Europe.

Signed in 1991, START led to huge reductions in the US and Russian nuclear arsenals and imposed verification measures to build trust between the two former Cold War foes.

It is unclear if Clinton will meet Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, seen by most as still Russia's de-facto number one, having failed to see him during her last visit to Moscow in October.

Date created : 2010-03-18


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