Russian and American negotiators could reach a new arms control deal within the next few hours, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday, but U.S. officials downplayed prospects for such rapid progress.
Andrei Nesterenko's statement came hours before Friday's meeting of U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of an international climate summit in Copenhagen.
Nesterenko voiced hope that U.S. and Russian negotiators at negotiations in Geneva could quickly iron out the remaining disagreements, possibly within hours.
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"We hope that all remaining issues will be settled in the nearest time, maybe even within the next few hours," he said.
"The course of the negotiating process and the prospects of its completion are expected to be discussed during today's meeting of the presidents of Russia and the United States in Copenhagen," he added.
But Michael Parmly, spokesman for the U.S. diplomatic mission in Geneva, downplayed the upbeat forecast from Moscow.
"It's extremely complex putting together a treaty like this," Parmly told The Associated Press.
"If you're expecting a signing ceremony by the end of the year, that would be a tough calendar," Parmly said. "In the mean time, though, they're working."
Officials in Washington say the talks have bogged down and appear unlikely to be concluded by the year's end as the White House had hoped. The new deal should replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START I, that expired Dec. 5.
Obama and Medvedev agreed at a Moscow summit in July to cut the number of nuclear warheads that each possesses to between 1,500 and 1,675 within seven years as part of a broad new treaty.
They initially had instructed negotiators to seek a fully ratified deal by the Dec. 5 expiration of START. Recently Obama had expressed hopes that a deal could be completed by the end of this year.
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