Nuclear warhead cutback pledged

Bush, Putin to push for deep reductions in long-range arsenals

Three-day summit opens

November 14, 2001|By David L. Greene and Mark Matthews | David L. Greene and Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - On what President Bush called a "new day" in the history of U.S.-Russian relations, he and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia pledged yesterday to make deep cuts in their long-range nuclear arsenals over the next decade.

Bush announced that the United States would slash the number of its nuclear warheads by two-thirds, to between 1,700 and 2,200. Without mentioning a figure, Putin said, "We will try to respond in kind." And in a speech last night, he proposed "a radical program of further reductions" in the two sides' arsenals.

"As Russia and the United States work more closely to meet new 21st-century threats," Bush said at a joint news conference with Putin, "we're also working hard to put the threats of the 20th century behind us once and for all."

But on the first day of a three-day summit meeting, the two leaders failed to reach agreement on U.S. plans to develop a national missile defense system that would force the scrapping of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Putin also insisted that arms cuts be formalized in a "reliable and verifiable agreement," whereas Bush contended that arms negotiations and agreements between Washington and Moscow are no longer needed.

Asked about Putin's suggestion that the two sides pursue a formal arms treaty to cover the issues of "verification and control," Bush said: "I looked the man in the eye and shook his hand, and if we need to write it down on a piece of paper, I'll be glad to do that."

But he added: "We don't need arms control negotiations to reduce our weaponry in a significant way."

As the two leaders began their first meeting on American soil, Bush said that cutting the number of nuclear warheads by 1,700 to 2,200 is "fully consistent with American security."

In vowing to reduce America's nuclear arsenal, Bush was fulfilling a pledge that he made during his presidential campaign and that he repeated in a speech in May. Bush wants to couple a sharp cut in nuclear arms with the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system.

The president has frequently complained that the ABM treaty is outmoded and should be eliminated. But he has set no deadline for when the United States would back out of it. And U.S. officials have hinted recently that the president might be able to live with the treaty in the short term, so long as Russia does not declare that U.S. work on an anti-missile system is in violation of it.

Moscow has objected to scrapping the treaty, and yesterday Putin said: "The position of Russia remains unchanged."

Discussions to continue

But the Russian president said that he and Bush had agreed to continue their discussions about the ABM treaty and their nuclear arsenals when the summit continues today and tomorrow at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas.

U.S. officials sought to play down the prospect of a breakthrough agreement in Crawford. What the two presidents said yesterday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters, "is what you will have to live with for some time."

The two presidents hailed their summit as an important symbol of how tensions between their countries have relaxed since the end of the Cold War. The United States and Russia, Bush declared, "are in the midst of a transformation."

"We're transforming our relationship from one of hostility and suspicion to one based on cooperation and trust," he said.

Putin said that he and Bush "intend to dismantle conclusively the vestiges of the Cold War." The two leaders highlighted key areas of agreement, saying that they see eye-to-eye on how a post-Taliban government in Afghanistan should be created and on the need to find ways for NATO to cooperate with Russia so that Moscow feels less isolated.

Still, even with Bush's vow to cut nuclear weapons, sharp disagreements remain over his desire to pursue a missile defense system. Cuts in the American nuclear arsenal, which Russia had called for, were expected to be a major step toward such a deal.

But some foreign policy specialists suggested that in the absence of tangible signs of agreement on missile defense, little would change for now. The United States would continue to plan tests of an antiballistic missile system and the Russians would refrain from any public outcry.

Seeking to play down the disagreement over the issue, Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, stressed that the two leaders had held a wide-ranging discussion of many topics, and were not focused necessarily on finding common ground on the idea of a missile defense system.

"This is not an arms control negotiation," she said.

Russia wants formal treaty

After the news conference, a Russian official suggested that Putin still wants his dialogue with Bush to be regarded as a negotiation, to culminate in a formal treaty.

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