Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the United States and Russia are likely to adopt a legally-binding agreement formalizing plans to sharply reduce their arsenals of long-range nuclear weapons. Mr. Rumsfeld's disclosure followed talks with visiting Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.
Russian officials have in the past made no secret of their desire for a formal arms reduction agreement. Now, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says President Bush is willing to go along with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in meeting that goal.
"The two presidents have agreed that they would like to have something that would go beyond their two presidencies," said Mr. Rumsfeld, "so some sort of a document of that type is certainly a likelihood."
Speaking at a joint news conference at the Pentagon with Mr. Rumsfeld, Russian Defense Minister Ivanov says he hopes work on the document will be finished in time to have it signed at a planned Bush-Putin summit in May.
But Mr. Ivanov indicated that Russia and the United States have yet to agree on a key issue: whether any of the warheads earmarked for reduction will be destroyed or merely stored, as the United States prefers.
"We will need to dispose of some of nuclear warheads, no matter if we want it or not," said the Russian official.
Mr. Ivanov hints that Russia might be flexible on the issue, allowing some warheads to be stored for a certain period. But he says eventually they will have to be destroyed along with their delivery systems.
For his part, Mr. Rumsfeld sought to ease Russian concerns about the latest U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, portions of which have been leaked to the news media and which indicate Russia is still viewed as a potential threat.
Mr. Rumsfeld says Russian officials have been briefed on the document, which he says is not an operational or targeting plan. He says the United States wants a new cooperative and non-confrontational relationship with Russia. "The United States seeks a cooperative relationship with Russia that moves away from a mutual assured destruction of the past," explained Secretary Rumsfeld, "and because of this new relationship, the United States can prudently reduce the size of its operationally deployed strategic nuclear forces by some two-thirds."
In addition to nuclear issues, the two officials also discussed the war on terrorism, including U.S. plans to provide counter-terrorist training to troops in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. The goal is to prepare them for operations against al-Qaida and other terrorists in a remote gorge bordering Chechnya.
Mr. Ivanov makes clear it is a sensitive issue for Russia, since "all that is taking place just 10-20 kilometers from the Russian state border so we cannot just sit and watch those activities indifferently."
But Mr. Rumsfeld says the United States has no plans to send any American troops into the remote border area. He also says only a modest number of military trainers will be dispatched to Georgia.