Russia hits back at US over official’s comments on extending major nuclear pact

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The United States said Tuesday it had reached an “agreement in principle” with Russia on extending New START, the two nations’ last major nuclear accord, which is due to expire in February.

“We are in fact willing to extend the New START treaty for some period of time provided that they, in return, agree to a limitation -- a freeze -- on their nuclear arsenal,” US negotiator Marshall Billingslea said.

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“We believe that there is an agreement in principle at the highest levels of our two governments,” he said at the Heritage Foundation think tank.

But Washington’s proposal for Russia to freeze its nuclear arsenal as part of the deal would be “unacceptable” for Moscow, a top Russian official said in a quick response to Billingslea.

“It’s an unacceptable proposition,” Russian news agencies quoted deputy foreign minister Sergei Riabkov as saying.

Russian diplomats have repeatedly emphasized that Moscow considers the limits on launch platforms — missiles, bombers and submarines — much more important than the restrictions on the number of warheads. Russia likely would be unwilling to accept a separate freeze on the number of warheads unless it is part of a full-fledged deal.

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