Bush and Putin agree to reduce their nuclear arms

War on terrorism: Summit
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Russia and America reached broad agreement to make sweeping cuts in their nuclear arsenals, part of a new strategic rapprochement between the former superpower rivals dramatically hastened by the terrorist attacks of 11 September.

After a first session of talks at the White House between Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin, Mr Bush spoke of "a new day in the long history of Russian/American relations." He promised closer bilateral economic ties and even stronger co-operation in the fight against terrorism, which the Russian leader described as a global threat.

Mr Putin hailed the "dynamic nature" of US/Russian ties, and announced "a new long-term partnership" between the two countries. In an important gesture, Mr Bush said he would seek the repeal of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, a legislative relic of the Cold War, which imposed trade sanctions on the former Soviet Union. But the key immediate bilateral agreement was on nuclear weapons, whose levels, the US President said, "no longer reflect strategic realities". Over the next decade, he promised, the Pentagon would work to cut its stockpile of warheads from around 6,500 to between 1,700 and 2,200.

Mr Putin gave no precise figure, but said he would try to respond in kind. Russian diplomats say Moscow, already struggling to pay for the upkeep for its 6,000-odd warheads, wants to reduce their number to around 1,500. No formal arms control treaty would be needed to seal an agreement, Mr Bush said.

It was less clear whether the two leaders had made progress towards an understanding on the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, which Mr Bush insists is outdated and obsolete, but which the Kremlin maintains is a cornerstone of international arms control. "The position of Russia on missile defence is unchanged," Mr Putin told a joint press conference at the White House. He said discussions would continue at the second, more informal phase of the summit at the President's 1,600-acre ranch at Crawford, Texas, today.

Washington and Moscow are the key co-sponsors of the Northern Alliance as it rolls back the Taliban in Afghan-istan, with Russia providing arms for the opposition group and giving its blessing for the US to use bases in the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Mr Bush and Mr Putin said their countries would share expertise on bio-terrorism, and strengthen the physical protection of, and counting procedures for, nuclear materials. They will also tackle drug trafficking, a prime source of financing of terrorism.