ROME - U.S. and Russian negotiators held a productive initial round of talks in Rome aimed at securing a new treaty to curb nuclear weapons, they said on Friday, as part of a broader effort to improve relations.

Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for verification and compliance, said the meeting was very productive and got off to a fast start.

Her Russian counterpart Anatoly Antonov said Moscow would do its utmost to prepare a new draft treaty by year-end.

We are sure, we are sure that this treaty, new treaty, will help to improve relations between (the) United States and (the) Russian Federation, Antonov said at a joint news conference with Gottemoeller at the U.S. embassy in Rome.

The Rome talks were called after presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev agreed in London earlier this month to work out a replacement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1), which expires in December.

A new arms reduction deal is seen by both sides as a way to show the former Cold War foes can work together despite bitter rows on other issues, such as NATO expansion into regions once dominated by Moscow and tackling Iran's nuclear ambitions.

These negotiations will be very important in hitting the reset button in the U.S.-Russian relationship, restoring mutual confidence to make progress in a lot of areas, Gottemoeller said.

After Friday's talks, the first full-fledged negotiations would be held in May in the United States, Antonov said.