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Russia: Hailing New Era In Ties, Bush And Putin Sign Historic Arms Pact

  • Jeffrey Donovan

U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an arms-control treaty today, declaring the Cold War finally over and predicting a brighter future for U.S.-Russian relations.

Moscow, 24 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the beginning of a new chapter in relations between the former Cold War foes today, signing a treaty to slash their strategic nuclear warheads by two-thirds.

At a lavish signing ceremony inside the Kremlin, the two presidents also signed a series of joint statements pledging further cooperation on the war on terrorism, improved economic and energy cooperation, and a more concerted effort to work toward a peaceful settlement in the Middle East.

And although the presidents openly disagreed about U.S. charges that Moscow is helping Iran obtain nuclear arms, the "Treaty of Moscow" was the highlight of a ceremony that was broadcast live around the world -- much like the summits of the Cold War era the presidents said was finally dead.

Bush said the two countries that kept each other in check with the threat of nuclear war for half a century finally "ended a long chapter of confrontation" and "liquidated the Cold War legacy of nuclear hostility."

The American president, whose father ruled the White House when the Soviet Union collapsed a decade ago, said Washington and Moscow now face a bright future.

"This is an historic and hopeful day for Russia and America. It's an historic day for the world as well. President Putin and I today ended a long chapter of confrontation and opened up an entirely new relationship between our countries," Bush said.

Putin hailed the pact -- which is the first arms treaty between the two countries since 1993 and must still be ratified by their legislatures -- as a natural step for countries that are "creating qualitatively new relations."

"Today we speak the same language, we face global challenges and threats together, and we are ready to work together to build a stable and just world order. It is in the interests of our peoples, our countries, and the entire civilized world," Putin said.

The agreement commits the U.S. and Russia to disengaging some two-thirds of their current stockpiles of strategic nuclear warheads over the next decade, to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads each. Analysts say such reductions were unthinkable just a few years ago.

But both presidents sought to stress the other areas in which their countries have stepped up cooperation, a process that was accelerated after Putin backed the U.S.-led war on terrorism following the 11 September attacks on the United States. Russia has also been hit by terrorism, including a bombing earlier this month that killed 42 people in Daghestan.

Bush said both countries must fight together against the same threat.

"Our nations will continue to cooperate closely in the war against global terror. I understand full well that the people of Russia have suffered at the hands of terrorists and so have we, and I want to thank President Putin for his understanding of the nature of the new war we face together," Bush said.

Russia's security relationship with the West is changing in the wake of the war on terrorism. Next week, NATO will usher in a new NATO-Russia Council to give Moscow a voice in some of the former enemy alliance's decision making.

Putin said this historic opening was thanks to improved ties with Washington.

"A special topic [of our discussions] is the mechanism of Russia-NATO cooperation in the format of 20 [alliance participants]. Today it means a fundamentally new level of mutual responsibility and trust among all parties. I want to stress that this international development was made possible thanks to the strengthening of Russian-American relations, including the common fight against international terrorism," Putin said.

Bush also said the U.S. would work with Russia to end the fighting in Chechnya and bring stability to Georgia. Both have been sore points in relations, with the U.S. accusing Moscow of human-rights violations in Chechnya and Moscow unhappy with recent U.S. troop deployments to fight terrorism in Georgia.

"Russia and the United States are also determined to work closely on important regional challenges. Together, we will work to rebuild Afghanistan; together, we will work to improve security in Georgia. We will work to end fighting and achieve a political settlement in Chechnya," Bush said.

And in the spirit of mutual goodwill, Bush also pledged to do all he could to facilitate Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization and persuade the U.S. Congress to drop Cold War-era trade restrictions against Russia.

Bush said he appreciated new freedoms in post-Soviet Russia, including for Jews. The trade restrictions, known as Jackson-Vanik, were originally intended to penalize Moscow for its refusal to allow Jews to emigrate from the Soviet Union. But the U.S. Senate declined this week to take the necessary steps to remove the amendment.

And while both presidents vowed to continue to work to prevent the proliferation of nuclear materials, including possibly to terrorists, there was open disagreement about U.S. charges that Russian firms are helping Iran develop weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. says Iran is getting part of that capability from a civilian nuclear power plant that Russia is helping to build.

Bush made this observation about bilateral talks earlier today that also included discussion about proliferation to Iran: "We spoke very frankly and honestly about the need to make sure that a nontransparent government run by radical clerics doesn't get their hands on weapons of mass destruction. It could be harmful to us and harmful to Russia."

But Putin, denying Russian activity is contributing to proliferation, suggested the charges were hypocritical.

"As far as Iran and some other countries are concerned, according to our information, the missile programs of these countries and their nuclear programs are being developed, to a great extent, with the technologies and support of Western companies," Putin said.

Bush and U.S. officials are also meeting leaders of Russian businesses and nongovernmental organizations today. He and his wife Laura, who arrived in Moscow last night, are then scheduled to dine with Putin and his wife at their country home outside Moscow.

Bush, who began his weeklong tour of Europe and Russia Wednesday in Berlin, travels on Saturday to Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg, where they are due to take questions on television from university students in a session to be broadcast on Russian television.

Putin is also expected to give the Bushes a tour of the Hermitage museum. Later on Saturday, the two couples will visit the Mariinskiy Theater and take a boat tour.

Bush heads to France on Sunday for meetings with President Jacques Chirac. Chirac and Putin will meet again on Tuesday in Rome when NATO launches its new council with Russia.

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