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Russia, U.S. continue nuclear talks

Top U.S. and Russian strategists held intensive negotiations Sunday to try to conclude nuclear weapons reduction and missile defense agreements for the summit this week by their presidents.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov struck a cautious stance. Asked if there would be accords as a result of talks in Washington and Texas, Ivanov hesitated, then said, "Let's wait."

Attending the meetings with a high-level Russian delegation in a New York hotel were Secretary of State Colin Powell; Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser; John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security; and White House arms control specialists.

President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to slash their arsenals of nuclear warheads by about two-thirds. Also, Putin appears ready to accommodate Bush on antimissile shield tests that bump up against the prohibitions of a 1972 U.S.-Soviet treaty.

Meanwhile, a U.N. conference on speeding ratification of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty opened Sunday _ without the United States, which reiterated last week that it did not support the pact.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, signed by 161 nations and ratified by 84 of them, cannot take effect until all 44 countries that possess nuclear weapons or have nuclear power programs have signed or ratified the treaty.

Only 31 such nations, including Britain, France and Russia, have ratified the 1996 accord that bans nuclear tests in any environment. The United States is among 13 nonratifiers.

Washington had signed the pact five years ago, but the Senate rejected the treaty in 1999. Opponents of the treaty say it is unenforceable.

The United States was invited to attend Sunday's conference as an observer but decided not to go, State Department spokeswoman Eliza Koch said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened the three-day conference Sunday by urging nations who haven't ratified to approve the pact.