MOSCOW, Jan 31: President Vladimir Putin issued a thinly-veiled warning to Washington on Thursday against using strong-arm methods in international diplomacy while confirming that Moscow demanded nuclear arms cuts be enshrined in a formal treaty.

Putin’s tough message came amid signs that Moscow and Washington were making only limited progress in their ongoing negotiations over arms cuts and missile defence.

It also followed the firmest indication yet that US President George W. Bush was willing to strike against Russia’s Middle East ally Iraq after calling Baghdad a part of “an axis of evil” in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Receiving the credentials of new ambassadors to Russia, Putin described as hopeless a pattern of international relations “based on the domination of one center of force.”

Instead Putin said he favoured the creation of “a truly fair international system, based on law and respect for the interests of each state, and capable of ensuring equal security for all nations.”

Earlier, the Kremlin cited Putin as saying in a meeting with Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov that he was dissatisfied with Washington’s current approach to arms cuts, which would see future cuts outlined in a looser, informal agreement.

Putin’s comments came one day after the Russian foreign ministry called for “a binding legal document” to be agreed by Washington and Moscow that would establish a ceiling of 1,700 to 2,200 nuclear warheads 10 years from now.

The disarmament issue has shaken warming relations between Moscow and Washington, with Putin calling “a mistake” Bush’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty to pursue the development of a missile defence system.

The US on Wednesday declined to comment on Moscow’s demand for cuts within the context of a binding legal treaty saying only that it had held “productive” and “substantive” arms control talks this week with Russia. The talks are expected to resume in Moscow on Feb 19.

The fact that Russia has requested a binding treaty may further sour disarmament talks, as the United States has said it wants a more informal agreement.

The two sides are hopeful that the disarmament issue can be resolved before Bush makes an official visit to Russia in the middle of this year.—AFP

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