Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday said the "right moment" has come for progress on disarmament, following what he described as "promising" first contacts with the new US administration.
"The right moment has come today, for the first time after the end of the Cold War, for making real progress in resuming the global disarmament process on a broad agenda," he told the 65-nation United Nations Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. "I am convinced that we should not miss this opportunity."
Lavrov's address to the conference came a day after his first meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during which both signaled a fresh start on missile defense and disarmament issues.
Washington and Moscow also agreed to a plan aimed at renewing their Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is due to expire by December 5. The treaty, which was signed in 1991, committed both parties to cut their nuclear arsenals, including reducing missiles to a maximum of 1,600 and warheads to no more than 6,000.
The two top diplomats' meeting marked a "resetting" of their countries' relationship, after growing tensions crystallized around Russia's August show of force in its brief war against US-ally Georgia.
Lavrov told the UN conference he found the first contact with the new US administration "very promising." He also read out a statement from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who said Moscow is "open to dialogue and is prepared for negotiations with the new US administration."
Medvedev saw nuclear disarmament as "fertile ground for a joint work" and said "constructive interaction in this field will contribute to the general improvement of the Russian-US relations."
Lavrov also said that Moscow wanted progress on disarmament through the conference, which has largely stalled over the past decade. "Time has been lost, we are determined to work quite intensively with our partners from the United States and other states," he told journalists after addressing the conference. Areas in which Moscow sought progress include an agreement towards the elimination of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles.
"We are prepared for a constructive dialogue with both the EU and all other partners on possible ways of dealing with these issues with a view to establishing a universal regime for banning these types of missiles," Lavrov said.
In addition, Lavrov said there were "some positive signals" from Washington on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, an agreement banning nuclear explosions on Earth and which has been ratified by Moscow but not by Washington.
Lavrov also reiterated Moscow's position for nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East, but said Russia would not accept Washington's plan for a missile shield in Eastern Europe in a bid to counter threats in the south.
The missile shield would "involve risks for the strategic interests of Russia and we will have to take measures to alleviate the risks," said Lavrov. "At the same time, we would prefer not to move in this direction," he added.
The New York Times recently reported that Obama had suggested a trade-off to Medvedev in which he would back off deployment of the missile shield, in return for Russian help on Iran.
On Friday, Lavrov said Russia and the United States can reach a "common view both in the context of strategic offensive weapons and missile defense."
On Saturday he said that the new US administration "changes the situation because new questions of multilateral disarmament have become a priority, something that we have not seen in the previous administration."