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The Soviet Union proposed to the United States Friday that negotiations be held this autumn to eliminate all short-range nuclear weapons from Europe, NATO officials said.

A spokesman for the U.S. NATO delegation said talks to address the Soviets' large advantage in short-range missiles are "long overdue" but stressed that American officials are not ready to negotiate elimination of all ground-based short-range missiles.

NATO, reiterating a position taken last month by President Bush, said it was ready to begin talks on short-range nuclear forces as soon as a Conventional Forces in Europe, or CFE, agreement is signed, rather than waiting until such a pact is implemented.

"The Soviet Union proposed to the United States to start negotiations on the elimination of short-range nuclear forces in the autumn of this year," a NATO spokesman said.

"This matter will be discussed by the (NATO) heads of state and governments at their summit meeting in London next month," the spokesman said. The London NATO summit, which follows a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Scotland last week, is scheduled for July 5-6.

The U.S. mission to NATO quickly responded to the new Soviet proposal.

"Regarding the Soviet offer to remove all short-range nuclear weapons from Europe and early talks, we note the continuing large imbalance in Soviet short-range nuclear weapons. Elimination of that imbalance is long overdue," said a spokesman for the U.S. mission. "The United States is prepared to enter into talks for the reduction of short-range nuclear systems as soon as the CFE talks are completed," the U.S. spokesman said. "If the Soviet Union negotiates in good faith in Vienna, we expect they can be concluded this year."

The U.S. NATO mission also said it "welcomed" a statement from Warsaw Pact defense ministers that the CFE talks in Vienna should be accelerated.