Russia and US agree on treaty to cut nuclear arms

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The Independent US

America and Russia have reached a landmark agreement to slash their existing nuclear arsenals by almost three quarters over the next 10 years, in a deal that President George Bush said yesterday "will liquidate the legacy of the Cold War".

Under the accord, which Mr Bush and Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, will sign at their planned summit in Moscow next week, both countries will cut their stockpiles to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads apiece, from current levels of between 6,000 and 7,000. Mr Bush made the unexpected announcement as he left for a campaign trip to the Mid West. Minutes later, Mr Putin also professed himself satisfied with the deal that American and Russian officials finalised in Moscow over the weekend.

The agreement, whose broad numbers were settled in principle almost a year ago, is ultimately a compromise that meets key demands of each side. America has apparently prevailed in its insistence that it be allowed to store, rather than permanently destroy, some of the de-activated warheads.

Mr Putin meanwhile has secured his goal of a treaty – albeit a short one likely to run to no more than three pages – rather than the informal oral agreement that Mr Bush was originally seeking. In this way he would have circumvented ratification by the Senate, which is currently under control of the Democrats.

White House officials said some US warheads will be destroyed, some will go into "deep storage", while others will be kept as "operational spares". Russia may also decide to keep some of its weapons on stand-by, in preference to the costly process of destroying them entirely.

None the less, the Kremlin does not seem entirely comfortable with the agreement to store some of the weapons. Sergei Ivanov, Russia's Defence Minister, said he had not dropped his objections to the idea of stockpiling warheads, but would not elaborate.

Both America and Russia have long accepted that their existing nuclear arsenals are far larger than needed in the post-Cold War environment. Even so, the treaty to be signed on 24 May is further evidence of the closer relationship between the former superpower rivals, which has emerged since Mr Bush came to office, and gained pace since the terrorist attacks of 11 September.

It has come despite lingering Russian unease over the American decision to press ahead with a national missile defence programme, and to pull out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. For almost three decades this was regarded in Moscow as the cornerstone of nuclear arms control.

America has about 7,000 warheads and Russia some 6,000. These totals were to be reduced to about 3,500 apiece under the Start-2 agreement, that both countries have ratified but which has not been implemented.

The new treaty, which pointedly is not being described as Start-3, "will begin the new era of US-Russian relations and that's important", Mr Bush said. "It will make the world more peaceful and put behind us the Cold War once and for all."