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US-Russian nuclear deal to be signed in Prague

PRAGUE (AP) — Prague announced Wednesday it will host the signing of a new U.S.-Russian treaty to reduce long-range nuclear weapons — the clearest sign yet that Washington and Moscow are close to completing a deal to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

For President Barack Obama, a ceremony in Prague would be a symbolic return to the city where he outlined his nuclear agenda in April and declared his commitment to "a world without nuclear weapons" in a sweeping speech before tens of thousands.

Czech Foreign Ministry spokesman Filip Kanda said negotiations on the treaty have not been completed yet but Prague agreed to host the signing by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev when a deal was reached. The START treaty had expired in December.

"As an ally, we have consulted with the U.S. side on an option for us to complete the signing when a deal is done," Kanda said. "We've agreed."

In Washington, a senior Obama administration official said the White House has talked to both the Czech and Russian governments about a signing in Prague. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive negotiations, said a deal was still being finalized.

The negotiations are still under way in Geneva. The treaty is likely to limit the number of deployed strategic warheads by the United States and Russia. Any agreement would need to be ratified by the legislatures of both countries and would still leave each with a large number of nuclear weapons, both deployed and stockpiled.

Both Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week that a deal was near — but not done.

The expired START treaty, signed by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and President George H.W. Bush, required each country to cut its nuclear warheads by at least one-fourth, to about 6,000, and to implement procedures for verifying that each side was sticking to the agreement.

The two sides pledged to continue to respect the expired treaty's limits on nuclear arms and allow inspectors to continue verifying that both sides were living up to the deal.

Obama and Medvedev agreed in July to cut the number of nuclear warheads each possesses to between 1,500 and 1,675 within seven years as part of a broad new treaty.

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Associated Press reporter Mark S. Smith in Washington contributed to this report