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'Russia ready to reduce nuclear arms'

world Updated: Jun 20, 2009 19:11 IST

AFP
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Russia is ready to significantly reduce its nuclear arms, President Dmitry Medvedev said Saturday ahead of scheduled talks on the topic with US President Barack Obama.

"We are ready to decrease the number of our strategic defence arms several times compared to START 1," Medvedev told journalists in Amsterdam, referring to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty Russia is re-negotiating with the United States.

The number of warheads should be "lower than in the Moscow agreement" he said, referring to a 2002 treaty that requires each side to limit its arsenal to a maximum of 1,700 to 2,200 deployed warheads by 2012.

Medvedev was speaking through an interpreter after meeting Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende on the last of a two-day official visit.

The president said he was looking forward "very optimistically" to the July US-Russia summit, hopeful of a revival of ties that "in previous years corroded quite a bit".

"We want new, binding agreements" on the START treaty, Medvedev said, adding that international security "depends on relationships between states with nuclear potential". "We want a verifiable and real reduction of such arms."

The 1991 US-Russia treaty, which limits the deployment of each country's nuclear arsenals, is due to expire on December 5.

But negotiations on replacing or renewing the pact have hit several snags, including disagreement over US plans to deploy elements of a global missile shield in Eastern Europe.

A third round of talks between officials of each side will take place in Geneva on June 23 and 24, the Russian foreign ministry said on Thursday.

"The talks are proceeding in a constructive and businesslike tone. We are working from the assumption that at the July summit the presidents will be able to announce the interim results," a ministry spokesman told reporters in Moscow.

Medvedev and Balkenende said they had discussed issues of economic cooperation, particularly in the field of energy. Both countries are big natural gas producers. "We discussed energy security and how this should be strengthened in Europe," said Medvedev.

"We agreed to do that by strengthening the legal framework," he added, without elaborating.

Later, the Russian president was to meet Dutch Economic Affairs Minister Maria van der Hoeven and the chief executives of several Dutch companies, including airline KLM, bank ING, electronics giant Philips, natural gas provider Nederlandsche Gasunie and oil concern Shell -- some of the biggest investors in Russia.

The president would be flanked at these talks by Viktor Zubkov, vice prime minister and chairman of energy giant Gazprom.

The Netherlands is the biggest foreign investor in Russia as well as Moscow's biggest export destination -- at 11.9 billion euros (16.6 billion dollars) about eight percent of the global total in 2008, mostly petroleum products.

Moscow imported 6.6 billion euros worth of goods from the Netherlands in 2008, mainly vehicles and specialised machinery.

"Our important task is to maintain the same level of trade despite the economic crisis," said Medvedev.

The Russian president and Dutch Queen Beatrix on Friday inaugurated the revamped Hermitage museum in Amsterdam, a satellite of the Saint.