Russia and the United States are likely to sign a nuclear arms reduction treaty early next month in what would be the first graphic proof that the “reset” in their relations is working.

Following two days of talks in Moscow, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the two sides hoped to have a signing ceremony “in early April”.

Ms. Clinton made the announcement after meeting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin late on Friday.

Russian diplomatic sources said the pact was all ready and would be signed in Prague before the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on April 12-13.

Russia and the U.S. have been negotiating a replacement to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START-1) since U.S. President Barack Obama and Mr. Medvedev met in April last year. The sides are understood to have agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals by about a quarter, from 2,200 warheads to between 1,600 and 1,500, and limit the number of delivery systems to about 800 for each side. These are the levels the two superpowers had at in the early 1960s, before raising them up to 10,000 warheads on each side by the end of the Cold War.

The last sticking point that took the negotiators much time and effort to overcome was a formal linkage between strategic arms cuts and the missile shield the U.S. is building. Moscow fears that a global missile shield will make the U.S. feel so secure that it will “act with impunity” towards Russia.

Russian legislators said they would not ratify the START follow-on treaty without an explicit link between offensive and defensive weapons reflected in the pact. U.S. Republicans, for their part, have threatened to kill the treaty if such a link is included.

Under a compromise reached the linkage has been included in the treaty preamble, which is not legally binding, Russian sources said. The Russian Parliament may also adopt an addendum to the treaty that would allow Russia to withdraw from the pact if the U.S. goes ahead with its global missile plans.

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