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Russia: Powell Says Washington, Moscow Close To Deal On Arms Cuts

Moscow, 10 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says Washington and Moscow are "very close" to reaching agreement on reducing nuclear arms.

Speaking after talks today in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Powell said a deal to reduce nuclear warheads could come as soon as next year, when the Russian and American presidents are scheduled to meet in Moscow.

Powell said such an agreement could take the form of a treaty or "something else." But he stressed it would be codified in such a way that it would preserve the transparency and control clauses that exist in current treaties.

U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a November summit in Texas agreed to sweeping cuts in nuclear warheads. But Bush appeared reluctant to consign the cuts to a written treaty.

Russia, for its part, is pressing for a written agreement and has made that a precondition for allowing the U.S. to continue development of a controversial missile shield that is outlawed by the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty.

Ivanov described the U.S.-Russia dialogue as one of "unprecedented intensity at all levels." But he said the joint Bush-Putin initiative on nuclear-arms reductions should be written into a new strategic arms treaty.

Ivanov told Powell it is important to continue the dialogue on strategic offensive weapons: "Another important direction of our cooperation remains disarmament and arms reduction. It is important to continue our negotiations on strategic offensive weapons and working out a new framework of strategic cooperation, as well as reaching further agreements on significant cuts of those strategic offensive weapons as it has been agreed upon by our presidents."

Both Powell and Ivanov said the positions of their respective countries concerning the 1972 ABM treaty remain unchanged.

The U.S. considers the ABM treated outmoded and has said it will scrap it if it cannot be modified to allow the U.S. to build a limited missile-defense system. The system would be aimed at repelling missiles fired by terrorists or rogue states such as Iran, Iraq, or North Korea.

Russia says the treaty plays a valuable role as a cornerstone of arms control and should not be abandoned.

The two foreign ministers were also to discuss Afghanistan and the Middle East. Ivanov said: "The central issues that are going to be discussed during our negotiations will include further development of strengthening of the common fight against terrorism, taking into consideration the situation in Afghanistan."

Powell spoke of a what he called an "acceleration" in bilateral relations since the 11 September terrorist attacks. He said the two countries have come together to combat the scourge of terrorism.

In talks with Powell, the Russian president personally thanked the Secretary of State for U.S. help in improving Kabul's Bagram air field: "I would like to sincerely thank you for the assistance provided by our American colleagues in the humanitarian operation in Afghanistan, especially for your support at Bagram air field, where your military specialists and ours worked together closely and very effectively."

Powell told the Russian leader that the joint effort was symbolic of the "open" and "transparent" state of cooperation between the two countries.

Powell later flew to Germany. He was due to head to Paris and London tomorrow before returning to the U.S.