President Barack Obama weighed in Wednesday to try to hasten the conclusion of a new nuclear weapons treaty with Russia, urging President Dmitry Medvedev to help accelerate its completion.
A White House official told The Associated Press that Obama telephoned the Russian leader and found him in accord on the need to press their negotiators to complete the elusive pact, which would sharply reduce their arsenals of long-range nuclear weapons.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss conversations between the two leaders, which is the latest painstaking step taken by the two sides since they missed their deadline in December to complete a new treaty.
The remaining differences were not divulged, but they are not expected to be deal-breakers. They are likely to center on monitoring and verification procedures.
Obama and Medvedev agreed in July that warheads should be capped at 1,500 to 1,675 from about 2,200 each side has now.
Obama would like to have a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty headed for Senate ratification by April 1, when he has called for a White House summit on nuclear proliferation.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke by telephone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to press him on completing the talks, which are being held in Geneva, as soon as possible.
The treaty would succeed the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. That pact expired in December, but the two sides agreed to continue to adhere to its provisions.
In the 2002 Treaty of Moscow, the United States and Russia agreed on ceilings of 1,700 to 2,200 operationally deployed strategic weapons by 2012.
Russia was surprised and miffed early this month when Romania approved a proposal to place U.S. anti-ballistic missile interceptors in the country as part of a revamped American missile shield.
The Russians had believed the issue of an American missile defense in Eastern Europe was off the table after the Obama administration last year disavowed a Bush administration plan to establish such a system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The Obama administration said it would diversify stationing of anti-missile weapons elsewhere and at sea to overcome Moscow's belief that the Poland and the Czech Republic installations posed a threat to Russian security.
The U.S. insisted that the anti-missile systems were designed only as a shield against a potential attack from Iran, which persistently refuses to prove that it's nuclear program is not designed to build an atom bomb.
In Moscow, Russia's top general, Nikolai Makarov, said Wednesday that the negotiations on the new treaty were complicated but that negotiators had reached agreement on most issues.
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