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    Lavrov says any new nuclear pact with U.S must lower WMD limits

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    A treaty to replace a key Russia-U.S. nuclear arms reduction pact must set lower ceilings for nuclear arsenals and limit the development of new atomic weapons, Russia's foreign minister said.

    MOSCOW, November 28 (RIA Novosti) - A treaty to replace a major nuclear arms reduction agreement between Russia and the U.S. must set lower ceilings for nuclear arsenals and limit the development of new nuclear weapons, Russia's foreign minister said on Wednesday.

    "We insist that any document replacing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty [START-I] should set lower ceilings not only for the number of nuclear warheads, but also for their delivery vehicles," Sergei Lavrov said on his way back from Tuesday's Mideast peace conference in the U.S.

    The START-I treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union on July 31, 1991, five months before the U.S.S.R. collapsed, and remains in force between the U.S., Russia, and three other ex-Soviet states.

    The three former Soviet republics, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, have since disposed of all their nuclear weapons or transferred them to Russia, and the U.S. and Russia have reduced the number of delivery vehicles to 1,600, with no more than 6,000 warheads. The current treaty is set to expire on December 5, 2009.

    The START-I treaty was followed by START-II, which banned the use of multiple re-entry vehicles (MIRV) but never entered into force and was later bypassed by the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Reductions (SORT), signed on May 24, 2002 by Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush in Moscow.

    SORT, which expires on December 31, 2012, limited both countries' nuclear arsenals to 1,700-2,200 warheads each. The treaty has been largely criticized for its lack of verification provisions and for not explicitly prohibiting the re-deployment of stored warheads.

    "The Moscow agreement [SORT] deals only with deployed nuclear warheads, but if they are simply stored, you can, basically, have as many of them as you want," Lavrov said.

    He also said the new treaty should be legally binding and signed by all nuclear powers, not only Russia and the U.S.

    "We insist on the legally-binding nature of any new agreement, and it should include not only confidence-building measures but should also be a step forward toward further reduction of nuclear arsenals," the minister said.

    "If we do not follow this course of action, we may find it difficult to make the next step - to turn the nuclear disarmament and nuclear weapons reductions into a multilateral process by involving other nuclear powers," Lavrov said.

    Russia and the United States have already called on all countries to join the bilateral Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which banned nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers (300 to 3,400 miles).

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