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U.S., Russia Agree to Widen Missile Talks

Security: At close of summit, Bush, Putin say defense shield discussions will now include long-range nuclear weapons. The move is well received in Washington, Moscow.

July 23, 2001|JAMES GERSTENZANG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GENOA, Italy — President Bush and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin pushed their talks on missile defense into new territory Sunday, agreeing to expand their discussions to include offensive as well as defensive nuclear weapons.

The agreement, which would entail what Putin called "large cuts" in nuclear weapons, represents a sudden step forward, the Bush administration said, as the two nations sort out the change in their strategic relationship that the construction of an American missile shield, opposed by Russia, would bring.

"What we're talking about doing is changing a mind-set of the world," Bush said Sunday. "We're basically saying the Cold War is forever over, and the vestiges of the Cold War that locked us both into a hostile situation are over."

The announcement was received with optimism in Washington and Moscow. But neither Bush nor Putin offered any details of what the next steps will be, suggesting they have a long way to go.

In the past, Putin had hinted that if the United States abrogates the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty--a step that would coincide with initial construction work on the missile defense system--Russia might put multiple warheads on its missiles to increase the chances of penetrating the shield.

On Sunday, Putin said Russia and the United States would talk about working together "toward cutting back, significantly, offensive arms." And if they can look at offensive and defensive weapons "as a set, we might not ever need to look at that option" of increasing Russian warheads.

Bush had talked previously about unilaterally ordering a reduction in the United States' long-range offensive missiles, without negotiating a reduction in Russian missiles, if the missile shield proposal moves forward.

Bush and Putin met for about two hours at the close of a tumultuous summit of the world's largest industrial democracies and Russia. Afterward, at a joint news conference, Putin said it had been "unexpected" that the two would agree to expand their talks to include offensive arms--the long-range missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads halfway around the globe in 30 minutes.

The last time a U.S. president talked with his counterpart from Moscow about lumping together defensive and offensive systems in arms talks, Ronald Reagan was meeting with Mikhail S. Gorbachev in Iceland in 1986. The two almost agreed to scrap all long-range nuclear missiles as Reagan pressed for acceptance of his Strategic Defense Initiative, known as Star Wars.

Bush has pictured a smaller system, targeting several missiles at once rather than hundreds.

Bush left Genoa minutes after the news conference and flew to Rome, his third stop on a weeklong European tour that ends Tuesday in Kosovo, a province of Serbia, the main Yugoslav republic. Today he meets with Pope John Paul II and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Bush and Putin met at the Doria Spinola Palace, a local government building. The two shook hands, then Bush put his arm around Putin's shoulders.

Bush has been working to develop a comfortable relationship with Putin, an ex-officer in the KGB, the Soviet spy agency. After their first meeting, last month in Slovenia, Bush said: "I looked the man in the eye and found him very trustworthy."

The remark brought sharp criticism from conservatives in the United States, and the president later amended it to say he could trust Putin--until he had reason to do otherwise.

On Sunday, he was more restrained. He said the dialogue "confirmed my impressions of Slovenia, that this was a man with whom I could have an honest dialogue; that we can discuss our opportunities and have frank discussion of our differences, which we did."

The Russian volunteered this observation of Bush: "His mental reasoning is very deep, very profound."

They plan to meet next in October in Shanghai at a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Bush also has invited Putin to visit him later in the year at his ranch in Texas.

But for all the charm Bush seemed to direct at Putin, little was returned, at least in the public setting of the news conference.

Bush sought common ground, observing that they are both "young leaders who are interested in forging a more peaceful world." Bush is 55, Putin 48. Putin remained unsmiling as he listened to a translation through an earpiece. His blue eyes slowly shifted from face to face in the front rows of reporters.

Referring to changes in Russian tax law under Putin, Bush said, "He and I share something in common: We both proudly stand here as tax reformers." Again, no reaction from the Russian.

Only when Bush said that he wanted to keep the news conference questions short "so we won't leave my wife waiting at the tarmac in Rome"--where Laura Bush rejoined the presidential tour after travels elsewhere in Italy--did Putin's lips slip into the vaguest suggestion of a smile.

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