MOSCOW – Russia's foreign minister warned Tuesday that the U.S. would jeopardize progress toward a new treaty with Russia on nuclear arms cuts if it decides to create a global missile defense system.
Sergey Lavrov spoke a day after the Russian and U.S. presidents reached a preliminary agreement setting targets for further reductions of the world's largest offensive nuclear arsenals.
Lavrov's message was that Russia will not agree to the cuts — which both countries say they want to codify in a treaty before the existing START I agreement expires in December — if the U.S. fails to assuage Moscow's concerns over missile defense plans.
He said Russia had won agreement from the U.S. that the new treaty would acknowledge a link between offensive and defensive weapons.
"If our partners (the U.S.) make a decision to create an American missile defense system with global reach, then that will doubtless place a big question mark over the prospects for further reductions in strategic offensive weapons," he said.
Russia wants Obama to abandon the previous administration's plans to deploy missile defense facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Lavrov praised President Barack Obama for placing those plans under review and said he hoped the review would end with "an understanding of the counterproductivity of unilateral actions" on missile defense.
The planned START replacement pact calls for each side to reduce strategic warheads to a range of 1,500 to 1,675, and strategic delivery vehicles to a range of 500 to 1,100. Current limits allow 2,200 warheads and 1,600 delivery vehicles.
A limit at the low end of that range would be better for Russia, which is already well below the 1,100 figure.
"We favor the maximum possible limitations on delivery vehicles," Lavrov said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the agreement Tuesday, saying it would make "a significant contribution to the process of nuclear disarmament as well as nuclear nonproliferation" ahead of next year's Vienna conference of countries that signed the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Lavrov also said an agreement allowing the U.S. to ship weapons to Afghanistan across Russian territory applies only to shipments by air, not by land, and that it gives Russia the right to inspect the shipments. A senior U.S. official said the agreement allows for ground transit but that the U.S. does not want it.
Russia is already allowing the U.S. to ship non-lethal goods by land across its territory, and the U.S. has conducted such shipments by rail this year.