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The Latest U.S.-Russia Summit: Russia 1, U.S. 0

Tuesday, 28 May 2002 12:00 AM

Last Friday, President George Bush and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, met in Moscow and signed a new arms control treaty that reduced each side's nuclear missile arsenal from as many as 6,000 warheads today to 1,700-2,200 within a decade.

"This treaty liquidates the Cold War legacy of nuclear hostility between our two countries," Bush said in the Kremlin's ceremonial St. Andrew's Hall.

Putin said the three-page treaty was the culmination of talks that began last November at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas. "It's the decision of two states which are particularly responsible for international security and strategic stability," the Russian president said.

However, during a joint press conference following the signing ceremony, both leaders accused each other of supplying nuclear and missile technologies to terrorist-sponsoring nations. After Bush pressed his Russian counterpart to stop giving nuclear assistance to Iran, Putin fired back by saying the U.S. has provided the same assistance to North Korea and has also helped Taiwan to develop its missile weapons.

The former KGB official was referring to an ongoing American program to help North Korea build an allegedly benign nuclear power reactor to replace a reactor that could be used to develop material for nuclear weapons. Putin also raised "some questions concerning the development of missile programs in Taiwan [and] in some other countries where we've been witnessing active work of producing weapons of mass destruction and their carriers."

It was an unusually pointed exchange for the two leaders, who otherwise praised each other during a press conference in the Kremlin as well as during their previous meetings. However, it clearly demonstrated that both leaders were unable to resolve a dispute over Russia's support of Iran's construction of a nuclear plant, whose technologies and production capabilities could be used by Tehran to develop its nuclear weapons.

During a meeting with Moscow's religious and community leaders, Bush alluded to Russia's heavy-handed restrictions on the press and took a swipe at Russia's battlefield behavior in Chechnya. However, it's very difficult to expect that an American president's remarks could change Putin's aggressive stand on these issues.

At the end of the summit, in addition to the arms control treaty, the two leaders signed a broad statement of principles on future cooperation, including such topics as missile defense. Putin is being consulted on the plans for the U.S. nuclear missile defense (NMD) system and might even share in its technologies.

As the Moscow press reported yesterday, "Mr. Putin, not President Bush, should be given full credit for shaping the agreements that have redefined relations between their countries, because Putin carried out his strategy, but Bush didn't, even though he might have thought he was in charge. Putin outplayed Bush, he bared his soul and his heart, spoke kindly of the U.S. president and became a trusted friend, considered by Mr. Bush as his 'partner.' "

According to the Moscow newspapers, Putin could neither afford to maintain more operational nukes nor prevent the U.S. missile defense deployment. But after he agreed with the U.S. proposals, Putin got what he really wanted – Bush acceded to the European-Russian initiative to institutionalize a greatly expanded Russian role in the European alliance.

The recently created NATO-Russia Council put Moscow in on the ground floor in alliance policy-making because the European nations want to diminish what they see as an overbearing and wayward U.S. influence in Europe, which is why they want Russia integrated into Europe.

Russia wants "in" for the same reason, according to the Moscow media, which say that Russia needs more leverage to temper America's self-centered power and the Europeans are ready and willing to provide it.

In other words, for Bush the recent summit with former KGB officials was a summit that produced nothing worthwhile, but for Putin it was a serious victory over American diplomacy, which the Moscow media say was unable to recognize the Kremlin leader's real intentions.

Of course, it's very difficult to agree with the opinions of the Russian press, but there is no doubt that U.S. diplomacy has a lot of work to do before Moscow can ever be considered a genuine American friend and partner.

And in dealing with Kremlin leaders, we have to remember the words of the real genius among many past American presidents, Ronald Reagan, who said almost two decades ago: "Trust, but verify."

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Last Friday, President George Bush and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, met in Moscow and signed a new arms control treaty that reduced each side's nuclear missile arsenal from as many as 6,000 warheads today to 1,700-2,200 within a decade. This treaty...
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Tuesday, 28 May 2002 12:00 AM
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