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Clinton hints more work needed on nuclear reduction treaty with Russia

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left a meeting with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov Thursday saying 'don't count your chickens' about a nuclear reduction treaty with Russia.

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But Russian negotiators have raised doubts about continuing US plans to station short-range antimissile systems in Romania and Poland during the 10-year period that the new treaty would cover. Many Russian conservatives have complained that without stiff controls on defensive weapons, US antimissile technology may render Russia's nuclear arsenal obsolete within a few decades.

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Boris Gryzlov, speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, the State Duma, and a close political ally of Mr. Putin, told journalists this week that the new treaty would have to contain tough language linking the need to limit defensive weapons with any reductions of offensive missiles. "Without that, there is no chance the treaty will be ratified in the Duma," Mr. Gryzlov said.

Last December, now-Prime Minister Putin broke the confidentiality of the START negotiations to publicly complain about US missile defense plans, raising questions about a possible Kremlin split over the wisdom of finalizing the treaty at all.

During a visit to Moscow last July, Mr. Obama acknowledged Moscow's concerns over the potential threat a US-controlled antimissle shield might pose to Russia's aging nuclear deterrent, but stopped short of agreeing to bring back a special treaty to ban such weapons.

Cold war-era nuclear arms control got seriously under way only after the two sides signed the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, curtailing work on antimissile systems. But President George W. Bush unilaterally withdrew from the ABM treaty in 2001, throwing US-Russian strategic relations into a tailspin.

Experts say the two sides will likely paper over the rift with a declaration linking the problems of controlling offensive and defensive weapons, but push any accord limiting antimissile systems into the future.

"The logic of the US position is not to have its hands tied by any restrictions on defensive weapons," says Alexei Pushkov, head of the Institute of Contemporary International Problems, a think tank that advises Russia's Foreign Ministry. "We already know that this treaty will not solve the problem that development of offensive and defensive weapons are closely linked. They may have a declaration acknowledging it, but so what? It means we will face this question down the road."