Presidents George Bush and Vladimir Putin today signed a landmark treaty requiring the United States and Russia to make the largest reductions ever in their nuclear arsenals.
President Bush said the signing "ended a long chapter of confrontation and opened up an entirely new relationship between our countries. President Putin said, "This is a serious move ahead to ensure international security."
The accord would limit the United States and Russia within 10 years to between 1,700 and 2,200 deployed strategic nuclear warheads, down from about 6,000 apiece now – a two–thirds cut in their respective nuclear arsenals.
"Friends really don't need weapons pointed at each other, we both understand that," President 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 react."
Mr Putin said there were legitimate reasons for keeping a reduced arsenal of nuclear arms. "Out there, there are other states who possess nuclear arms," he said. "There are countries that want to acquire weapons of mass destruction."
Specifically, Mr Bush expressed concern about Iran. "We spoke very frankly and honestly about the need to make sure a non–transparent government, run by radical clerics, doesn't get their hands on weapons of mass destruction," he said.
He said he had raised concerns about Russia's nuclear assistance to Iran, a state the United States has branded a sponsor of terror and part of an "axis of evil" alongside Iraq and North Korea.
Mr Putin defended Russia's assistance to Iran, pointing out that the United States has similarly helped North Korea to build a nuclear power plant. Besides, he said, much of Iran's nuclear program is based on Western technology.
US officials said Iran recently conducted a successful flight test of its Shahab–3 ballistic missile and intends to develop missiles that could reach targets in Europe.
Russia is helping build a nuclear reactor in Bushehr and scientists have contributed missile expertise to Iran. US officials question Russia's assertion that the Bushehr facility is simply a civilian reactor.
Mr Bush said he backed Russia's attempts to become part of the World Trade Organization. "It's in our nation's interest," he said.
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