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Bush and Putin Sign Historic Arms Reduction Treaty

Friday, 24 May 2002 12:00 AM

Bush said the treaty "liquidates the Cold War legacy of nuclear hostility between our two countries.

"President Putin and I today ended a long chapter of confrontation, and opened up an entirely new relationship between our countries," Bush said.

Putin called the agreement a "decision of two states which are particularly responsible for international security and strategic stability."

The three-page arms agreement calls for a two-thirds reduction of the strategic nuclear warheads of the two nations, from 6,000 each to a range of 1,700 to 2,200 over the next decade. It must be ratified by the U.S. Senate and the Russian Duma.

The treaty sets up a bilateral commission that will meet twice each year to discuss issues raised in its execution. Verification procedures in place since the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991 will govern the new treaty.

When a reporter asked the two leaders if it was a new era of peaceful relations why the two countries needed 2,000 warheads, Bush answered: "Who knows what will happen 10 years from now? Who knows what future presidents will say and how they will react?"

Putin said consideration should be given to the idea the nuclear arsenals of the Cold War might have "contained the world from large- scale wars over the past decades."

Though Russia sought to have the weapons dismantled, the United States prevailed and established the right to have the bulk of them placed in reserve. Bush said having the weapons off the launchers allowed them to be better maintained.

"If you have a nuclear arsenal, you want to make sure they work. The reason you keep weapons in storage apart from launchers is for quality control," he said.

The signing ceremony followed closed-door meetings between Bush and Putin that aides said touched on a wide range of subjects, from Russian oil production to nuclear proliferation. The only hint of discord came at a news conference after the signing when the two men discussed Russia's nuclear assistance to Iran.

The United States last week identified Iran as the most active sponsor of terrorism. Later White House officials said Russia was providing nuclear technology to assist Iran in building a nuclear plant.

Russia and Iran signed an $800 million contract in 1995 for Russian assistance in building a nuclear power plant at the southern Iran port city of Bushehr. It is expected to be completed in 2005. The United States has repeatedly asked the Russians to end the contract, fearing it would help Iran build a nuclear-weapons capability.

Russia and Iran maintained in news announcements the plant is a civilian energy facility with no military utility, but Bush said in Berlin Thursday he hoped to dissuade Putin from this assistance.

Friday, Bush said he and Putin had discussed the issue and had agreed on the dangers of supplying nuclear technology to Iran.

"We spoke very frankly and honestly about the need to make sure that a non-transparent government run by radical clerics doesn't get their hands on weapons of mass destruction," Bush said.

He said Putin had given him "some assurances that I think will be very comforting for you to listen to."

But when Bush turned to Putin at their news conference, he seemed mildly surprised as Putin said he would like "to point out that cooperation between Iran and Russia is not all a character which would undermine the process of non-proliferation."

Putin said he would "like to point out" the United States is building a similar nuclear power plant in North Korea, a rabidly anti-American nation Bush mentioned in his "axis of evil." The United States agreed to assist in building the power plant as part of a deal to keep North Korea from building a nuclear-weapons program.

Putin said "we have questions concerning missile development programs in Taiwan," which Russia and China allege has been aided by the United States.

Bush, who has never before visited Russia, was eager to see Moscow and St. Petersburg, where his trip has built in more sightseeing and ceremonial occasions than any other stop.

Also on Friday, Bush led a small procession to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where a wreath was placed. Draped across the 4-foot-wide wreath was a white ribbon saying, "From the President of the United States on behalf of the American people."

Bush is scheduled to go on today to Putin's hometown, St. Petersburg, where he will visit the Hermitage Museum and attend a church service.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Bush said the treaty liquidates the Cold War legacy of nuclear hostility between our two countries. President Putin and I today ended a long chapter of confrontation, and opened up an entirely new relationship between our countries, Bush said. Putin called the...
Friday, 24 May 2002 12:00 AM
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