U.S., Russia agree to cut nuclear arms

Treaty would require two-thirds reduction in arsenal over decade

Signing next week in Moscow

Bush drops opposition to formal deal

Putin gives on disposal methods

May 14, 2002|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The United States and Russia forged a historic treaty yesterday that would require both nations to slash their nuclear arsenals by two-thirds over the next decade. President Bush, who plans to sign the treaty in Moscow next week, said it would "liquidate the legacy of the Cold War."

With little advance word, Bush appeared outside the White House to make the announcement, hours after U.S. and Russian diplomats completed months of negotiations. The two sides had been eager to strike a deal in advance of Bush's visit to Russia.

Each country made concessions. Bush dropped his original objection to signing a formal treaty. And Russian President Vladimir V. Putin granted the United States broad flexibility in deciding how many nuclear warheads will be destroyed and how many can be stored for possible future use.

The treaty, analysts noted, is important mostly for its symbolism; it does little more than keep both countries on course to scale back their nuclear arsenals in ways they had planned. But the accord could open the door for greater cooperation on more complex issues, such as how to entice American investors to Russia and how to bring Russia into the World Trade Organization.

The treaty, which must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate, is expected to be approved.

Critics expressed concern about the absence of any requirement that warheads be destroyed. Allowing Russia to stockpile weapons once they are taken out of deployment, some said, could pose a serious danger if terrorists or rogue nations were able to obtain the warheads and use them.

Under the treaty, which must also be ratified by the Russian Duma, both sides will cut their arsenals from about 6,000 warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012. The deal, officials said, all but replaces the START II treaty, signed in 1993, to cut each side's arsenals to between 3,000 and 3,500 warheads. That treaty has not taken effect.

In practical terms, the new accord is only codifying sharp cuts in both nations' arsenal that were in the works under President Bill Clinton. Nevertheless, before leaving Washington for Chicago, Bush said the signing of the treaty would "begin the new era of U.S.-Russian relationships."

"The new era will be a period of enhanced mutual security, economic security and improved relations," Bush said. "It will make the world more peaceful and put behind us the Cold War once and for all."

In Russia, Putin said, "Without the interested, active position of the American administration and the attention of President Bush, it would have been difficult to reach such agreements."

Yesterday's announcement comes as the two nations have grown especially close since Russia committed itself to working as a full partner in fighting global terrorism after Sept. 11.

Bush and Putin will most certainly sign the three-page document - far shorter than previous arms treaties - in a formal setting amid much fanfare. But many questions remain about how the treaty will be implemented, a fact both presidents have played down as they have stressed their warm personal bond in recent months.

Russia has long objected to the Bush administration's desire to stockpile rather than destroy arms. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said his country still opposes the U.S. position that weapons need only to be taken out of commission. He did not say whether Moscow would revive its objections to the U.S. position as the treaty is being implemented.

A senior Bush official said most of the U.S. warheads that will be removed from the U.S. arsenal would be destroyed. He stressed, however, that a Pentagon report on U.S. nuclear capabilities released this year said that in light of uncertain global threats, "there may be requirements for us to have nuclear capabilities far into the future."

For that reason, the official said, "some of the weapons will be dismantled, some of the weapons will be placed in deep storage, and some of them will be stored as operational spares."

Critics said they feared that Russian warheads, or stockpiled nuclear materials, could end up in the wrong hands. They noted that while active nuclear warheads in Russia are tightly guarded, those that go in storage facilities are far less secure.

Rep. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, a senior Democrat on the House Energy Committee, called the new treaty "a great step" but added that destroying weapons would make sure they never fall to terrorists.

"Russia and the United States should reach an agreement to destroy each weapon," he said, "not keep them in a garage."

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Delaware Democrat who leads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - where hearings on the treaty will take place - supported the agreement but made clear that hard questions would be raised: "Are the reductions generally irreversible, or will most of the weapons be put in storage for later use? Will the reductions take place promptly? How well will we be able to verify Russian compliance with the treaty's provisions?"

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