Bush optimistic U.S., Russia can reach nuclear pact

Saturday, May 4, 2002

WASHINGTON -- President Bush expressed optimism Friday that the United States and Russia will reach a major nuclear arms reduction agreement that he can sign with President Vladimir Putin at a Moscow summit in three weeks.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said there was a "very high probability" of reaching a deal that would cut U.S. and Russian arsenals of long-range warheads to a maximum of 2,000 on each side within 10 years.

Bush offered his assessment at the Camp David presidential retreat after meeting earlier in the Oval Office with Ivanov and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"The secretary of state is optimistic, but there's some work that remains to be done," Bush said. "We've been spending a lot of time with Russia to reach an agreement that will codify" his pledge to "substantially reduce our offensive nuclear weapons."

Bush talked with reporters after he greeted Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, the European Union's current president.

Powell also met separately with Ivanov and said he was encouraged by progress they made in detailed discussions.

"Remaining differences are there, and we need to spend more time working on them and discussing them to see if we can resolve them in time for the Moscow summit," Powell said.

"If we can, fine," he said. "And if we are unable to, the work will continue, but I am encouraged."

What to do with warheads

A key sticking point is whether the discarded warheads are to be stored or disposed of, a senior U.S. official told The Associated Press.

On the other hand, substantial progress was made on how to verify that the reductions in arsenals of long-range nuclear warheads are being carried out, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

There was progress on other "core issues," as well, he said, but some small items remained unsettled.

Powell and Ivanov are due to meet again at the spring session of the NATO alliance in Iceland May 14-16.

And Undersecretary of State John Bolton will meet in Moscow that week with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov.

"There are outstanding issues we have to agree on," Powell said, while declining at a joint news conference with Ivanov to identify any problems.

He did say no decision had been made on whether the accord would be in the form of a treaty or an executive agreement, and that the cutbacks would be legally binding.

Ivanov said, "We achieved progress."

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