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US officials in Russia to clear obstacles of nuclear treaty

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WASHINGTON (AP): In a sign that a new arms deal with Russia may be close, President Barack Obama has sent two top national security aides to Moscow to work on clearing the last obstacles.

National Security Adviser James Jones has headed to Russia on Wednesday with Joint Chief Chairman Adm Mike Mullen, White House spokesman Mike Hammer said.

He said the trip is "primarily to discuss the remaining issues left to conclude a new START treaty."

The 1991 treaty expired last month. But Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed last July to seek a new one slashing the arsenals of both sides to between 1,500 and 1,675 warheads each.

Talks in Geneva broke for the holidays in December amid lingering differences over verification and missile defense.

The talks are set to resume on Monday. Last week, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher told reporters the two sides are "really close to an accord."

US negotiators have resisted Russia's demand to include in the deal a plan for monitoring US missile defense interceptors being deployed in Europe. But Moscow has also been loath to grant US experts access to Russia's data on new missile tests.

A senior official couldn't say if progress had been made on either point. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the nuclear talks, said it was unclear if the trip by Jones and Mullen "could do the trick.

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