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U.S.-Russia Nuclear Cutbacks Hazy
November 14, 2001

WASHINGTON (AP) - The numbers are hazy and President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin disagree whether there should be a formal treaty. But they have pledged to make deeper cutbacks in stockpiles of nuclear warheads than ever before.

Bush set a ceiling of 1,700 to 2,200 warheads to be reached within a decade. The United States has a little more than 7,000. That means scrapping more than two-thirds.

Putin responded with an announcement he would slash the current Russian arsenal to one-third or less. The Russians are estimated to have more than 5,800 warheads.

``Security is created not by piles of metal or weapons,'' Putin said late Tuesday at the Russian Embassy. ``It is created by political will of people, nation-states and their leaders.''

Despite their wrangling over anti-missile defenses, Bush and Putin clearly want to celebrate a new relationship. Ten years after the disintegration of the Soviet Union the two countries are no longer adversaries.

A sharp cutback in nuclear weapons is a sure way to show trust.

But the two leaders have not decided whether arms reductions need to be codified in a treaty.

Bush said he saw no need for ``endless hours'' of negotiations.

By contrast, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said, ``We need to put it down in a treaty. It doesn't mean we distrust anyone. Just the opposite. It would consolidate and boost our relation.''

The administration is open to using verification procedures from the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which was to lower warhead levels to 6,000 on each side by the end of next month.

Verification is designed to provide what diplomats politely call transparency and others refer to as a way to guard against cheating.

A formal treaty also could settle some important unanswered questions, Such as whether the warheads removed from missiles will be destroyed or stored for potential use later.

Treaties on the books specify how weapons are taken apart and how they can be inspected by teams from the other side.

Bush did not rule out a new treaty, although he clearly found it unnecessary. ``I looked the man in the eye and shook his hand,'' the President said. ``And if we need to write it down on a piece of paper, I'll be glad to do that.''

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the private Arms Control Association, said Wednesday if Bush did not agree to a treaty ``he would lose a historic opportunity to lock in irreversible and verifiable reductions of the Cold War arsenals he has correctly called relics of the past.''

Kimball took a skeptical view of how far Bush was willing to go in cutting arsenals. He said in an interview that the 1,700 to 2,200 level is ``but a modest trimming of the levels that President Clinton and (Boris) Yeltsin had agreed to in 1997.''

The START III treaty they envisioned would have set a ceiling of 2,000 to 2,500 each. It never went beyond informal negotiations. And the Bush administration has no interest in picking up the ball.

Peter Scoblic, editor of Arms Control Today magazine, questioned that a treaty would take as long to complete as Bush has suggested.

Much of the diplomacy was done under the START I and START II treaties, and a new pact simply would be a matter of political will, he said.

``They (Bush and Putin) can do that and do it relatively quickly,'' Scoblic said.

The START II treaty, which was signed and ratified, but not implemented, called for a ceiling of 3,000 to 3,500 warheads each by the end of 2004.

Robert S. Norris, a senior research analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the cutback agreement between Bush and Putin ``doesn't move us forward.''

Norris, in an interview, said a large category of ``hedge weapons'' are excluded from the cutbacks. These are nuclear arms held in reserve for redeployment.

Also, he said, arsenals of short-range nuclear weapons are not being reduced. Russia, he said, could have from 4,000 to 12,000 of them.

And, Norris said, ``even with our new friendship we are still targeting Russia'' with long-range nuclear weapons.

``Friends don't target friends,'' he said. ``We don't target Britain or France.''

Ira Helfand, of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said Bush chose a range of 1,700 to 2,200 warheads because the Pentagon had determined that was the number needed to annihilate Russia.

Dr. John Pastore, who is with the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, said any agreement must be put in treaty form instead of the more informal arrangement preferred by Bush.

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