President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin have signed a treaty committing their countries to the deepest cuts ever in nuclear arms. The signing ceremony was the centerpiece of the summit in Moscow.
President Bush says the agreement ends a long chapter of confrontation and opens up an entirely new relationship between two former foes. "It's an historic and hopeful day for Russia and America," he said. "It's an historic day for the world as well."
The two presidents signed the treaty in a gilded, vast hall in the Kremlin. After putting their signatures to the final pages, they smiled, shook hands, and praised their accomplishment.
President Putin, speaking through a translator, said the agreement was the result of a joint effort. "It's the decision of two states, which are particularly responsible for international security and strategic stability," he said.
Under the treaty, the two nations agree to dramatically reduce their stockpiles of long-range nuclear warheads. Each side now has about 6,000. Once the cuts are made, the number of warheads ready for use will go down to somewhere between 1,700 and 2,200 per country.
During a news conference, the two leaders were asked why they still need so many warheads, if the United States and Russia are now friends.
President Bush called up the lessons of history, saying 'look how far we have come.' "We have made tremendous progress from the past," he said. "And the treaty is setting a period of time in the rear view mirror."
President Putin said some stockpiles are needed to guard against future threats from other countries. He noted that during their talks, he agreed with Mr. Bush that a great danger is posed by nations that seek weapons of mass destruction that could get into terrorist hands.
Mr. Putin said he offered assurances that a Russian program to help Iran build a nuclear power plant does not pose a proliferation threat, and will not provide Tehran with technology that could have military applications. "Cooperation between Iran and Russia is not of a character that would undermine the process of non-proliferation," said Vladimir Putin.
The Russian leader said the United States is involved in a deal to provide North Korea with a nuclear power plant, in exchange for assurances that Pyongyang has dropped its nuclear arms program. North Korea, Iran and Iraq have been called an "Axis of Evil" by President Bush, who fears all three could one day put the most dangerous weapons of all in the most threatening hands.