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Bush, Putin Optimistic About Arms Deal - 2002-05-07

President Bush called Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday and expressed hope that a nuclear arms deal will be ready before their summit later this month. Top officials from both countries are trying to wrap up an agreement on deep cuts in their nuclear arsenals.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer indicates both President Bush and the Russian leader are optimistic an agreement can be reached. Mr. Fleischer said, "The two presidents noted the progress their negotiators are making on an agreement to reduce offensive nuclear weapons and expressed hope that the agreement will be ready for their signature when the president travels to Moscow at the end of this month.

It will be Mr. Bush's first official trip to Russia, although he has met with President Putin in other locations, most recently in Washington and the Bush family ranch in Texas.

An arms accord could be the centerpiece of their talks in Moscow. Both sides have announced plans to dramatically reduce their offensive warheads. The difference is over what to do with those taken out of service. Russia thinks all should be destroyed, while the Americans want to place some in storage.

The White House spokesman said during their 15-minute conversation, the two men also talked about the need for a political solution to the conflict in Chechnya, and Georgia's efforts to combat terrorism along the Chechen border. An advance group of American military trainers is already in Georgia to instruct Georgian troops in anti-terrorism operations.

Finally, Presidents Bush and Putin turned their attention to a thorny trade issue. Mr. Fleischer said, "The two presidents also discussed the dispute over poultry and the president [Bush] urged a prompt resolution of that matter."

Russia put restrictions in April on imports of American poultry products, citing health concerns. Some of the restrictions have since been eased.