President Bush says he is ready to dramatically reduce America's long-range nuclear arsenal by about two-thirds. After talks at the White House, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country will try to respond in kind.
President Bush promises a substantial cut in strategic nuclear warheads over the next ten years. "Current levels of our nuclear forces do not reflect today's strategic realities," he said.
The United States currently has about seven-thousand intercontinental nuclear warheads. Mr. Bush said that number will drop to somewhere between 1,700 and 2,200.
The Russian arsenal is believed to total just under 6,000. And while he did not announce cuts of his own, Vladimir Putin indicated they would come.
Speaking through an interpreter at a joint news conference, he welcomed the American announcement. "We appreciate very much the decision by the president to reduce strategic offensive weapons to the limits indicated by him," he said. "And we for our part will try to respond in kind."
President Bush's decision was not a surprise to the Russian leader. Shortly after he became president, Mr. Bush ordered the Pentagon to conduct a strategic review. He said he would use that review to determine appropriate arms levels.
Mr. Bush told reporters it is all part of a post Cold War approach to arms control based on trust. "I can remember watching the news years ago and seeing that people would sit at tables for hours and hours and hours trying to reduce levels of nuclear armament," he said. "My attitude is [you tell the other side]: 'Here's what we can live with.' And so I have announced a level that we will stick by. And to me that is how you approach a relationship that has changed."
President Putin said he would still like to see all the announced arms cuts eventually worked into one agreement. President Bush said he did not think that was necessary, but raised no objections.
Still unresolved is the fate of the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty, which bars deployment of a missile defense system. The Bush administration wants to scuttle or change the pact to permit a missile shield. The Russians want to keep the treaty in its present form.
Mr. Putin said the issue is difficult and they will keep on talking. "The position of Russia remains unchanged and we agreed to continue dialogue and consultations on this," he said.
The talks will resume on Wednesday at a far more informal venue. President Putin and his wife will travel to the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas for more dialogue and a taste of Texas hospitality.