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Bush and Putin Sign Pact for Steep Nuclear Arms Cuts

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Bush and Putin Sign Pact for Steep Nuclear Arms Cuts


MOSCOW, May 24 — In a day devoted to celebrating what President Bush called "an entirely new relationship" with Russia, he and President Vladimir V. Putin signed a treaty today to commit their nations to the most dramatic nuclear arms cuts in decades. But both men tried to smooth over a disagreement about continued Russian exports of nuclear technology to Iran.

The three-page Treaty of Moscow was signed early this afternoon inside the Kremlin, in a 300-year-old throne room built by the Russian czars and used today to end what Mr. Bush called "a long chapter of confrontation." While that confrontation has steadily eased since the Soviet empire began to unravel in 1989, the accord today cleared the way for what Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin hailed as a new era of cooperation focused on counterterrorism, trade, Russia's new relationship with NATO and halting the spread of nuclear arms,

The treaty commits both countries to reducing their arsenals, now about 6,000 warheads each, to no more than 2,200 at the end of 2012. But then the treaty expires, meaning that either nation would be free to rearm starting the next year unless the agreement was extended or amended. [Excerpts, Page A7.]

Critics of the accord contend that it will leave Russia with a large supply of deactivated warheads that could fall into the hands of terrorists if they are not sufficiently guarded, and that it frees the United States to stockpile warheads that can easily be reattached to missiles.

Mr. Bush's aides counter that none of the past arms control deals have regulated the complicated process of actually dismantling warheads.

The treaty was signed almost exactly 30 years after President Nixon and the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev signed the Antiballistic Missile Treaty and the first of the strategic arms limitations treaties here. Mr. Bush said he had come to end that era, and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, said the accord should not be considered the first Russian-American treaty of the 21st century but "the last treaty of the last century."

Nonetheless, either country can withdraw from the treaty with only three months' notice, and when asked today why it was necessary to keep 2,000 nuclear weapons loaded atop missiles, Mr. Bush made it clear that the future was as unpredictable as the Soviet Union's end a decade ago.

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

It was just for that reason that Mr. Putin insisted on a formal treaty, rather than what Mr. Bush first proposed, an informal agreement between two presidents. But as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell noted recently, the Senate also demanded a treaty, so that it would be able to review the nuclear arms cuts. Both the Senate and Russia's Parliament are expected to ratify the treaty, but Mr. Bush made no predictions today how long that would take.

He also defended the administration's decision to store many of its warheads as a "quality control" measure. "If you have a nuclear arsenal, you want to make sure that they work," he said.

Mr. Putin added: "Out there, there are other states who possess nuclear arms. There are countries that want to acquire weapons of mass destruction." Neither president mentioned China, but by most estimates it has about two dozen intercontinental ballistic missiles.

While the signing of the treaty was the centerpiece of the day, Mr. Putin's mind was clearly on his country's economic state, only four years after the collapse of the ruble, which sent many foreign investors fleeing. Economic growth is back — and he talked during a news conference about Russia's need to gain membership in the World Trade Organization, and for the Congress to revoke cold war-era restrictions on economic relations.

The two leaders' efforts to cement the unpredicted partnership they have developed over the last year hit one sour note: a clear difference of opinion about Russia's continued sale of its nuclear expertise to Iran, one of the countries Mr. Bush has identified as a member of the "axis of evil."

Mr. Bush told reporters, "We spoke very frankly and honestly" about the need to make sure "a nontransparent government run by radical clerics doesn't get their hands on weapons of mass destruction."

But Mr. Putin immediately shot back that cooperation between Iran and Russia was not "of a character that would undermine the process on nonproliferation." He said Russia's aid was entirely focused on nuclear energy projects — projects that the Bush administration says are unnecessary in an oil-rich nation.

Mr. Putin then threw the issue back at Mr. Bush, noting that "we have some questions concerning development of missile programs in Taiwan," which receives American technological aid, and said that "the U.S. has taken a commitment upon themselves to build similar nuclear power plants in North Korea." This was a reference to a 1994 accord with North Korea, in which the United States committed itself to helping the country build two "proliferation-resistant" nuclear power plants, but only after the North allows further international inspection of its suspected nuclear sites, something Iran has resisted.

This evening a senior administration official said that Mr. Putin had privately assured Mr. Bush that "they are not now, nor would they, do anything to contribute to the Iranian military nuclear program or ballistic missile program." But in that meeting, he also defended Russia's dealings with Iran.

In a flurry of side agreements, Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin inaugurated a "joint experts group" to develop a plan within six months to destroy or convert for commercial use Russia's large stockpile of highly enriched uranium and plutonium. Russia is estimated to have 1,000 tons of such material, and there is considerable debate over how well protected it is.

The United States intelligence agencies have warned for years of the danger that the material could fall into the hands of terrorists, or that underpaid Russian nuclear scientists could divert some of the material to a rogue state or a terrorist group. In news conferences and interviews, Mr. Bush and his aides have not seemed extremely concerned by the prospect, insisting that they have received assurances about the country's nuclear security.

But in a recent op-ed article in The Washington Post, former Defense Secretary William J. Perry, former Senator Sam Nunn and the former commander of the American strategic nuclear forces, Gen. Eugene Habinger, charged that the administration had no "coherent strategy" to secure the Russian nuclear supplies and had failed to insist on an accurate accounting of existing weapons.

Other experts, like Graham Allison of Harvard, have contended that today's treaty addresses the lesser threat: nuclear warheads controlled by the two governments, rather than nuclear material that may be on the loose.

The dispute over Iran aside, the summit meeting seemed as warm, if more formal, than the one last November at the Bush ranch in Texas.

Throughout his day, Mr. Bush struck a relaxed, even casual demeanor amid the blindingly gilded splendor of the Kremlin. Early in the day, as cameras began taping the two presidents' remarks after two hours of talks, Mr. Bush was captured slyly removing a candy or gum from his mouth.

Later, as he finished signing the nuclear arms treaty and a strategic relationship agreement in St. Catherine's Hall, the president directed an impish wink at Ms. Rice, who is an expert on the Russian military.

It was Ms. Rice who, three years ago, wrote an article in Foreign Affairs expressing deep suspicion of Mr. Putin and his motives. Tonight she helped celebrate the treaty at a dinner at his house.

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