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Pace of US-Russia Arms Reduction Contacts Increases - 2002-02-09

The pace of U.S.-Russian contacts is increasing as the two sides work toward a sweeping nuclear arms-reduction accord in time for President Bush's Moscow summit visit in May.

Officials here say Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke by telephone with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov Friday for the second time in as many days on, among other things, an arms deal that could slash the two sides nuclear arsenals by two-thirds over the next decade.

The process was given new impetus by a U.S. concession announced earlier this week by Mr. Powell, who told a Senate hearing the administration could agree to Moscow's demand that new warhead ceilings be enshrined in a legally-binding treaty or executive agreement.

News reports from Moscow say that in their Thursday conversation, Secretary Powell and Foreign Minister Ivanov agreed to finish the deal by the May summit.

However, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters here that this remains a goal rather than a commitment by the two nuclear powers. "The two sides have been looking at reaching an understanding on strategic framework issues by the time the Presidents next get together," he said. "That's always been the context of our discussion, and the goal. That was the context of our discussion I think between the two Presidents in Crawford, and certainly when the Secretary was our there in December and subsequently. So that's what they're looking to try to do."

At their Crawford, Texas summit last November, both President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed far-reaching nuclear weapons cuts.

Mr. Putin said he was prepared to reduce Russia's arsenal to 1,500 warheads while President Bush proposed a range of between 1,700 and 2,200 weapons.

Arms control experts consider the difference over warhead numbers to be readily negotiable, but they caution the two sides are sharply divided over the disposition of warheads removed from strategic missiles.

Moscow has insisted that any such warheads be destroyed. But spokesman Boucher said Friday there has been no change in the Bush administration's stand that the United States should be allowed to keep some de-commissioned warheads in reserve.