Negotiators from the United States and Russia are working to finalize an agreement to drastically reduce nuclear arsenals. Both sides hope an accord will be finalized in time for President Bush's visit to Moscow, later this month.
Senior officials from both countries are expressing confidence a deal can be signed when President Bush arrives May 23rd, for a three-day visit.
Speaking via video link from Washington Sunday night, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Russian television viewers he is confident an agreement will be signed during the summit. He says he is encouraged at the progress that has been made. Mr. Powell says the agreement would mark a new stage in relations between Russia and the United States which, in their alliance against terrorism, have become friends and partners, not enemies. He says, "the days of the Cold War, the days of mutually assured destruction, are over."
On the same program, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the arms deal is vital for the future of Russo-American relations. The Russian official acknowledged some people in his country believe the deal is not in Russia's best interests.
Last month, a group of retired Russian generals ran full-page ads in Russian newspapers condemning the proposed arms agreement and Russia's closer ties with the West.
During talks in Texas last November, Mr. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed that nuclear arsenals be cut to between 1,700 and 2,220 for each side. Each side currently has between 6,000 and 7,000.
A senior U.S. diplomat here has said this summit could be historic, a turning point and a major step forward in Russia's relations with the West.
U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton is in Moscow to try to resolve some of the outstanding issues. Differences have revolved around accountability and Russian objections to American proposals to store nuclear warheads rather than destroy them, after they have been removed from missiles.
Secretary Powell also expressed Washington's concerns about Russian nuclear technology transfers to Iran. Mr. Ivanov said, if the United States has concerns about what he called the "possible leakage of certain technologies" from Russia, there are ways to deal with it. The Russian official said both sides should decide together on how to best to deal with them if, as he put it, they are true.
Russia's concerns about America's planned missile defense system have become less of an issue than there were a year ago. Relatively little has been said lately about the Bush Administration's decision to abandon the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, which prohibits such a system.
Mr. Ivanov says a decision has not yet been reached as to whether the document that could be signed is an agreement or a treaty. He says, given the significance of the pact, he believes it should be a treaty.