Russia hailed a new nuclear arms treaty with the United States, but warned that U.S. missile defence plans could derail its implementation.

The pact takes relations “to a higher level in building new strategic ties” and testifies to their “unwavering commitment… to reductions in their strategic offensive arsenals,” said the Kremlin in a statement posed on President Dmitry Medvedev's official website.

The Kremlin confirmed that Presidents Medvedev and Barack Obama would sign the treaty in Prague on April 8. However, it disputed the U.S. claim that the treaty imposed no restrictions on the U.S. missile defence programmes.

The Russian statement said the treaty contained a “legally binding linkage between strategic offensive and strategic defensive weapons”.

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Friday the U.S. “missile defence is not constrained by this treaty”. The text of the treaty is yet to be published. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov strongly disagreed.

“There is nothing in this treaty that would make it easier for the United States to develop missile defences that would create risks for Russia,” Mr. Lavrov told Russian TV station TV-Tsentr.

Conceding that Russia had no veto over U.S. anti-missile R&D programmes, Mr. Lavrov said the treaty established a “clear-cut link” between such programmes and “the quantity and quality of strategic offensive weapons”.

Mr. Lavrov made it clear Russia could withdraw from the treaty if the U.S. went ahead with building a global missile shield. Mr. Obama last year suspended the deployment of new missile defences.

“The treaty and all obligations arising from it only have force if in the context of the current levels of strategic defence systems,” he said. “Any violation of these levels will allow the side which detected them to decide what it will do with its strategic offensive systems.”

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