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US-Russian Arms Talks Progress - 2002-05-03

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov held a day of meetings in Washington Friday with President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell in an effort to have a nuclear arms reduction deal ready for the Bush summit visit to Russia in three weeks. Progress was reported, but there is still no final accord.

The two sides agree in principle on sweeping weapons cuts that would reduce their nuclear arsenals by more than two-thirds from current levels.

But there have been lingering disagreements over, among other things, whether some retired warheads might be kept in storage, as the Bush administration wants, or all of them destroyed, as sought by Moscow.

There has also been discord on weapons-counting issues and whether the agreement will deal with the issue of missile defense.

Emerging to talk to reporters after the day-long set of meetings, both Mr. Powell and Foreign Minister Ivanov reported progress but also said outstanding issues remain.

Under questioning, the Secretary declined to be specific about the differences, and also would not rule out the possibility that an accord will not be ready for the summit.

"We have made progress on all areas. But what I would rather not do is single out where the remaining differences are," he said. "I am encouraged by the progress we have made, and remaining differences are there, and we need to spend more time working on them and discussing them to see if we can resolve them in time for the Moscow summit. If we can fine, and if we are unable to, the work will continue. But I am encouraged."

Mr. Powell said it has not been decided yet whether the arms pact will be a treaty or an executive agreement. But he said either would meet Moscow's insistence that the weapons cuts be set in a legally-binding document.

For his part, Mr. Ivanov said at the White House there is a very high probability that the deal will be finalized in time for Mr. Bush's May 23 arrival in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The final Powell-Ivanov meeting of the day broke up an hour earlier than expected, though Mr. Powell cautioned reporters not to read anything into that.

He will see the Russian Foreign Minister again in two weeks on the sidelines of the spring NATO ministerial meeting in Iceland, and in the meantime, experts of the two sides will continue the work on the arms accord.

The weapons deal would be the keystone of a new strategic relationship between the former Cold War adversaries. Their nuclear stockpiles now roughly 6,000 warheads each would be reduced to between 1,500 and 2,200 weapons over the next decade.