Washington, 6 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Officials say they hope that U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be able to sign an agreement on reducing strategic nuclear arms when they hold their summit meeting in Moscow later this month.
In fact, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says there is a "very high probability" that the document will be ready for signing when the summit begins on 23 May.
Speaking outside the White House on 3 May after meeting with Bush, Ivanov said both governments believe it is important to move quickly to sign such an agreement: "I would like to stress that the treaty on the reduction of strategic offensive arms is of crucial importance, not only for the bilateral relations between the United States and Russia, but also for the strategic stability in global terms, and this sentiment is shared."
Ivanov said both sides hope a treaty will be ready for the presidents' signatures. He had a meeting later the same day in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to discuss arms reduction further.
Afterward, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said relations between the U.S. and Russia are now very strong, and that Bush has worked to help Russia take a more Western approach to foreign policy.
As for signing a treaty calling for a mutual reduction in nuclear arsenals, Fleischer said: "The president [Bush] is hopeful that an agreement can be reached that he will be able to sign when he arrives in Russia. There's been a lot of hard work done by the Russians and the Americans [to draft a treaty], and the president is hopeful."
During their summit meeting in Washington last November, Bush announced in the course of a joint White House news conference with Putin that the U.S. will unilaterally reduce the number of America's strategic nuclear weapons from about 7,000 to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads.
Putin pledged comparable cuts. At the time, the Russian president said he would prefer to have these mutual cuts to be codified in a treaty, and the document that diplomats from both countries are working on fulfils that wish. Since the November summit, Putin has said Russia can reduce the numbers of its warheads to as few as 1,500.
A major problem that has complicated the negotiations is how the weapons will be reduced. The United States wants to store the warheads that are withdrawn from its arsenal. Russia contends that the only meaningful way to reduce nuclear weapons is to destroy them.
Ivanov's talks during his visit to Washington were not limited to arms reductions. He also met on 2 May with Powell, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and foreign ministers of the European Union to begin organizing a conference on resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
Details of the conference have yet to be established -- even a date and a site are not known.