The White House says progress is being made in talks with Russia on the now linked issues of missile defense and cuts in offensive arms. The assessment comes less than two weeks before President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in the United States.
They hope for a deal by the time President Putin comes to the United States in mid-November; but in public, White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice tried to downplay expectations. "We believe that we are understanding each other better, that we are making progress," she said. "But I would caution against expecting any particular deal at any particular time."
The discussions have been going on for months. The White House wants to test and deploy a missile defense shield - a move that would violate the cold war era anti-ballistic missile treaty. Russia wants to keep the ABM pact, but wants deep cuts in offensive arms.
And so, in a new spirit of cooperation forged by the war on terrorism, they are looking for some sort of compromise. Condoleezza Rice said they are moving towards a new security relationship. "We are building this relationship over a long period of time with the Russians and we are making steady progress," she said.
Ms. Rice noted that President Bush has said in the past that U.S. offensive weapons levels are too high, but she refused to confirm reports that the United States might agree with Russia to slash stockpiles of strategic nuclear warheads by as much as two-thirds.
The White House national security advisor stressed the Bush administration is wrapping up a review of its strategic forces and that review will ultimately determine how many weapons remain in America's offensive arsenal. "This is an internal review," Ms. Rice explained. "This is not a review with the Russians where we say we have to match warhead for warhead."
Condoleezza Rice said the United States wants to move away from the type of arms agreement where Americans and Russians agree to make cuts on a warhead-to-warhead and system-to-system basis. She said that is old thinking, and in today's world cuts should be based on the kinds of threats each country faces and their individual deterrence needs.