Bush heads for Russia to sign arms treaty

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The Independent Online
WASHINGTON - President George Bush yesterday acclaimed the latest nuclear arms treaty between the United States and Russia as a 'great step for mankind,' before leaving for a weekend summit with President Boris Yeltsin at which it will be signed, writes David Usborne.

The summit, at the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, will conclude what will almost certainly be Mr Bush's last foreign outing as President. He will first see in the new year with US troops in Somalia and then meet King Fahd in Saudi Arabia. Regional issues, notably the stumbling international effort to contain the Balkan war and continuing Gulf tensions, will be high on the agenda in Saudi Arabia and Sochi.

Domestically, Mr Bush will be hoping that the conclusion of the landmark arms accord, the third of his presidency, and the trip itself will become the lasting legacy of his presidency, effacing memories of economic disappointment and his humiliating election defeat by Bill Clinton.

Negotiated in Geneva this week by the US Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, and his Russian counterpart, Andrei Kozyrev, the accord, Start 2, aims to cut US and Russian arsenals of long-range nuclear arms by two thirds by 2003. It will specifically eliminate weapons that might have been used in a first-strike attack.

At a White House press conference, Mr Bush insisted that doubts about the deal within Russia and other former Soviet republics, including Ukraine, where the weapons are based, would be overcome. 'Boris Yeltsin is quite confident of that. He feels that it is a good agreement, good for the whole world, as do I'

Discussions with King Fahd will focus on demands by Islamic nations for an end to the arms embargo on Bosnian Muslims fighting Serbs. The Islamic Conference has threatened to begin unilaterally supplying arms to the Bosnians by mid-January.