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US, Russia Pledge Further  Nuclear Weapons Cuts

The United States and Russia vowed Tuesday to pursue further cuts in their strategic nuclear arsenals and to take new steps to limit weapons proliferation. The announcement was a follow-on to the talks between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin Sunday and Monday in Kennebunkport, Maine. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Arms control advocates have been critical of the administrations of both Presidents Bush and Putin for allegedly neglecting arms control.

But a joint statement here said the two powers are fully committed to non-proliferation, and intend to reduce their offensive strategic nuclear arsenals "to the lowest possible level" consistent with national security needs and alliance commitments.

The last strategic nuclear arms reduction, or START, treaty between Washington and Moscow, reached in 1991 at the end of the Soviet era and limiting the two sides to six thousand deployed warheads, expires in 2009

A Bush-Putin agreement in Moscow in 2002 commits the two sides to deeper cuts, to no more than 2,200 warheads each, but the deal lacked specifics and compliance has lagged.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed arms issues on the sidelines of the Kennebunkport meetings. They said in the joint statement the sides are ready - upon instructions from the two presidents - to continue talks on a post-START accord "with a view toward early results."

At a press appearance here with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak, U.S. Nuclear Non-Proliferation envoy Robert Joseph said talks on the shape of a post-START arms accord are under way but only at an early stage:

"We haven't come to agreement on what will replace START but we are in the process of talking about that. We both want transparency, we both want confidence building measures. We have talked about measures that would involve data exchanges and site visits," Joseph said. "We have, I think, a way to go in terms of our discussion but we are actively working that.

A declaration by Presidents Bush and Putin, also released Tuesday, said the two governments are determined to expand nuclear energy cooperation, and to make such technology available to developing countries, while still limiting the spread of nuclear weapons.

They said expansion of nuclear power around the world is inevitable given the soaring demand for energy, but that it should be conducted in a way that strengthens the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.

President Bush said Monday he and Mr. Putin agreed on the need to send a "common message" to Iran over its disputed nuclear program. Russia has proposed setting up a center to furnish and reprocess nuclear fuel for Iran and other potential nuclear states to prevent diversion of such material for weapons purposes.

In that regard, Deputy Foreign Minister Kislyak defended Moscow's cooperation with Iran on its nearly-completed Bushehr power plant on the Persian Gulf. He said Russia will control fuel for the Bushehr plant, and said if Iran wants a broader nuclear program it should be based on that arrangement:

"Bushehr is going to be continued. It's going to be built. It's fully compliant with all the requirements of the IAEA," Kislyak said. "It's fully under the safeguards agreements. And I would say that the arrangement around Bushehr is an example of what Iran would be well-advised to choose as a method and way of developing its nuclear energy."

Kislyak called the Bushehr plan a win-win proposition for all those concerned. He also dismissed as overly ambitious an Iranian claim this week that the plant will be completed and fueled within two months.

Though it once supported the Russian take-back plan for the Bushehr plant's fuel supply, the Bush administration has more recently urged Russia to halt nuclear cooperation with Iran altogether.

Iran insists its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, but the United States and European allies believe it has a covert weapons project.