White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice is downplaying prospects for an arms agreement when President Bush meets later this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It will be their fourth face-to-face meeting and the first on American soil.
At issue is the status of a major Cold War arms pact, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
President Bush says it is a relic of the past and must be changed or discarded to allow for deployment of missile-defense systems. President Putin warns the treaty has helped keep the peace, and it would be a mistake to scuttle it.
Both sides have held to their positions. But they have agreed in recent months to keep talking, and to link consultations on missile defense with discussions of offensive arms cuts.
They have spoken of good progress in recent weeks, part of a spirit of cooperation forged in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
But National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice says that does not mean there will be a framework agreement on the fate of the ABM treaty ready for signing during the Bush-Putin summit. "I would not look for any particular agreement at any particular time," he said.
During an appearance on the ABC television news program "This Week," Ms. Rice talked about the evolution of U.S./Russian relations.
She said it is wrong to use the same summit ground rules that applied during the Soviet era, where the two Cold War enemies seldom met unless they had some sort of major agreement to sign.
"We have made progressive efforts and progress toward a very different kind of relationship. That is going to continue," she said. "This is not a summit in which one has to tie up arms control in a big red bow, the way that we did in the old days."
President Bush said a few days ago that he has made a decision on cuts in U.S. offensive arms. Condoleezza Rice said President Bush will share those numbers with Mr. Putin. "They will undoubtedly discuss the importance of strategic offensive force reductions, which the President, all the way back in the campaign, said needed to be made because we have numbers that are too high for current deterrent trends," he said. "We will also talk with the Russians about how to move beyond the ABM treaty."
Presidents Bush and Putin will confer at the White House on Tuesday. On Wednesday and Thursday morning they will meet again at Mr. Bush's ranch in Texas.