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US, Russian Officials Voice Disagreements Over Nuclear Arms - 2002-01-17

Top U.S. and Russian defense officials have ended two days of talks in Washington on a variety of military issues, including cooperation in combating terrorism and further reductions in nuclear arms.

Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith says the talks were aimed at forging a new type of friendly and cooperative defense relationship, one devoid of the kind of hostility that strained ties between the two countries during the Cold War era.

But speaking to reporters after two days of meetings at the Pentagon, the chief Russian representative to the talks, Colonel General Yuri Baluyevsky, sounded distinctly critical about the U.S. position on two key defense issues.

He first condemned outright the U.S. decision to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. He then indirectly condemned U.S. plans to store, not destroy, nuclear warheads removed from weapons earmarked for a fresh round of strategic offensive reductions. "We are for irreversibility of the reduction of the nuclear forces," he said.

U.S. official Feith later responded by calling such criticism misleading. "We are doing something significant in reducing operationally-deployed warheads, operationally-deployed systems, and this issue about permanent reduction is, I think, a red herring," he said.

He says previous arms control treaties never called for the actual destruction of warheads.

Despite the discord, Mr. Feith says the two sides have agreed to set up a number of working groups. These will consider not only areas of cooperation but also possible agreements for a summit meeting later this year between Presidents Bush and Putin.