Bush pushes for US-Russia treaty on nuclear cuts

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The Independent US

The United States and Russia aim to have a legally binding agreement to slash nuclear weapons ready for signature by presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin at their planned Moscow summit in May.

"I'd like to sign a document," President Bush told a White House press conference yesterday. "Both President Putin and I want something that outlives both of us, and I'm optimistic we can get it done." He was speaking after a meeting here between Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, and Sergei Ivanov, his Russian opposite number.

His remarks represent an important concession by the White House, which hitherto had been focusing on an informal agreement between the two president to reduce warhead totals, rather than a formal treaty.

In another assurance, Mr Rumsfeld insisted that Russia was not a target for nuclear weapons –- despite the Pentagon's controversial nuclear posture review, leaked at the weekend, which names Russia as one of seven countries that could be a potential threat. "The United States targets no country on a day-to-day basis," Mr Rumsfeld said.

He suggested relations between the two former Cold War rivals had changed so fundamentally since 1991 that they no longer regarded each other as adversaries. "We want to get past the mutually assured destruction policies of the past."

The reductions envisaged by the White House and the Kremlin would bring down their respective arsenals to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads apiece within a decade from the present levels of some 6,500.

President Bush did not budge, however, on one issue that has irked the Russians – the Pentagon's desire to mothball decommissioned weapons, rather than destroy them entirely, as the Kremlin wants. Nor did he give any ground on the suggestion in the Pentagon review that America should focus on a new generation of smaller nuclear weapons designed to destroy threatening facilities, which opponents believe mightlower the nuclear threshold.

The President evaded comment on whether smaller weapons would increase the threat of a nuclear exchange. "My interest is to reduce the threat of nuclear war. We're a peaceful nation," he said.

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