Bush, Putin differ despite pact

Presidents sign treaty calling for U.S., Russia to slash nuclear arsenals

`A historic and hopeful day'

Putin defends ties to Iran, outlines desired benefits of friendship with U.S.

May 25, 2002|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

MOSCOW -- President Bush and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin signed a new nuclear arms pact yesterday, but the Russian leader made clear in his remarks that even in an era of warmer relations, major differences remain between the two countries.

Putin boldly stood up to Bush on the issue of Iran, defending Russia's relationship with the Iranian government and playing down U.S. concerns that a nuclear power plant being built in Iran with Russian help might be used to develop nuclear weapons.

Standing beside Bush after the treaty signing and several hours of talks, Putin said he was concerned about nuclear proliferation but insisted that cooperation between Iran and Russia was based on the economic interests of the two countries. "Our cooperation is exclusively, as regards [the] energy sector, focused on the problems of economic nature," Putin said.

Bush said he was "confident Putin worries about Iran" and "understands that weapons of mass destruction are dangerous to Russia, just as they are to America." Senior Bush administration officials said Putin assured Bush in their talks that Russia would not contribute to Iran's programs for nuclear arms or ballistic missiles.

The Russian president, who visited Bush in Texas in the fall, appeared determined to assert himself on his own turf as many Russians were questioning whether the United States viewed their country as an equal partner.

Bush's joint appearance with Putin in the Kremlin's ornate St. Andrew's Hall, just off Moscow's Red Square, was mostly collegial. Before taking questions from reporters, the presidents signed what was billed as the highlight of the summit -- a nuclear arms treaty that calls for Russia and the United States to slash their nuclear arsenals by two-thirds, leaving 1,700 to 2,200 warheads on each side.

"It is a historic and hopeful day for Russia and America," Bush said. "It is a historic day for the world as well. President Putin and I today ended a long chapter of confrontation and opened up an entirely new relationship between our countries."

The signing of the agreement, which American officials called the Treaty of Moscow, capped almost a year of negotiations. It has little practical effect because the two countries had planned to reduce their arsenals without it, but it could help build relations between them.

Desired benefits

Yet Putin sent an unmistakable message yesterday that, beyond friendship, he was looking for Russian interests to be satisfied. Analysts have said they do not know how long Putin can maintain close ties with Washington without gaining clear benefits because many of his political opponents are looking for weaknesses to exploit.

After briefly celebrating the arms treaty in his opening remarks, Putin listed what he wants Russia to gain from befriending the United States. He said he would like the two countries to begin cooperating on energy projects in Russia, wants American businesses to invest more in Russia, and hopes Russia will build a more positive relationship with NATO.

Putin also called on Bush to exempt Russia from the Soviet-era Jackson-Vanik Amendment, passed by Congress in 1974 to block the normalization of trade relations. The measure requires an annual review of Russia's emigration policy as a condition of easing trade barriers.

Bush said he was "determined" to exempt Russia from the law, but he faces stiff resistance from members of Congress who are angry at Russia for recently banning imports of U.S. chicken. "It is time our Congress responded to my request, and President Putin's desire, that the Jackson-Vanik Amendment be removed," Bush said.

Bush offered Putin little besides promises yesterday. In addition to a vow to nudge Congress on Jackson-Vanik, Bush said he would help Russia gain entry into the World Trade Organization -- but gave no timeline. The leaders also signed several general statements of partnership promising that U.S. and Russian officials would continue working urgently to build economic ties, but they contained no concrete measures.

`Realistic assessment'

What became clear was the difficulty the two presidents face in creating a permanent bond between two nations with a legacy of hostility. In response to a question about why each country needed nearly 2,000 nuclear warheads, Bush starkly acknowledged that there was no guarantee that the nations will remain close.

"Friends really don't need weapons pointed at each other -- we both understand that," Bush said. "But it's a realistic assessment of where we've been. And who knows what will happen 10 years from now? Who knows what future presidents will say and how they react?"

But the leaders did pledge to work together to fight terrorism. It was Putin's willingness in the fall to allow the Pentagon to send troops to former Soviet republics in Central Asia that helped build relations with Bush. And Putin said yesterday that he was committed to working with Bush to "counteract global threats and challenges."

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