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The World & Nation | U.S.-RUSSIA SUMMIT

Warmth, but No Thaw on Missiles

Summit: Bush and Putin answer students' questions at a Texas high school appearance. U.S. president accepts an invitation to Russia.

November 16, 2001|JAMES GERSTENZANG and NORMAN KEMPSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin wrapped up their three-day summit Thursday without resolving their disagreement on missile defenses, but they minimized their differences and stressed their readiness to reduce nuclear weapons and fight terrorism together.

"The more I get to know President Putin, the more I get to see his heart and soul, and the more I know we can work together in a positive way," Bush said.

The sessions at the White House and at the president's ranch were their fourth encounter in five months. At least in public, the two men this week displayed a growing chumminess that is rare on the diplomatic stage--particularly when leaders from Moscow and Washington meet.

During a joint appearance Thursday at Crawford High School, Bush said in response to a student's question: "There's no doubt, the United States and Russia won't agree on every issue. But you probably don't agree with your mother on every issue."

Putin, abandoning the dour expression he often displays in public, grinned broadly.

Putin invited Bush to visit Russia, and Bush accepted--with the proviso that with the harsh Russian winter approaching the visit be scheduled for a warm time of the year.

In their comments at the high school, each signaled a willingness to work with the other on the missile defense issue.

Bush's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, said the Pentagon intends to proceed with its plan to test potential missile defense systems "in a robust way, so we can evaluate [their] potential." But she said the two presidents emerged with the understanding that their differences over such an issue will not stymie the improving relations between nations that were the Cold War's key combatants.

"We have a difference of opinion," Bush said of his goal of building a defense system. But he added: "Our relationship is strong enough to endure this difference of opinion. And that's the positive development. Our disagreements will not divide us."

He also said: "It's one thing for he and me to have a personal relationship. The key is that we establish a relationship between our countries strong enough that will endure beyond our presidencies."

Putin, taking his turn to answer a student's question, said: "Our objective is common both for the United States and for Russia. The objective is to achieve security for our states, for our nations and for the entire world."

He said Moscow and Washington share a concern about the threats posed by missiles, "and here is a common ground for our further discussions."

Whatever solution is reached, he said, "it will not threaten . . . the interests of both our countries and of the world."

The Russian president and his wife, Ludmila, spent the night at Bush's ranch, in a guest house near the president's home on the 1,600-acre spread.

During Putin's visit to the U.S., the two presidents shared four meals together over 53 hours. On at least two occasions, they delved deeply into the war in Afghanistan. After leaving Texas, Putin traveled to New York, where he toured the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

On Tuesday in Washington, each leader announced plans to reduce his nation's arsenal of nuclear arms by about two-thirds. Putin, however, would like to put these pledges into writing, while Bush questioned whether that would be necessary.

Although Bush didn't get the go-ahead from Putin for the U.S. missile defense program, the Russian president didn't say anything to cause the administration to change its plans. The Pentagon is tentatively scheduled to conduct its next test within weeks. And the administration hopes to begin building a command and testing facility in Alaska next spring.

The planned test of an interceptor rocket wouldn't violate the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, which allows each country to deploy up to 100 such rockets to defend either its capital or an offensive missile facility. Although Bush's plans for a nationwide defense system would violate the treaty, the current round of interceptor tests technically could be explained as an attempt to update rockets for the sort of system that is permitted.

The Bush administration acknowledges, however, that the Alaska facility would violate the treaty because it would be designed to test a system covering the whole country.

Russia believes that the ABM treaty ensures stability in the nuclear era because if neither country maintains a comprehensive defense against nuclear missile attack, each would probably refrain from launching an attack.

Bush argues that his proposed defensive system would not be built to protect the United States from Russia, but from an attack by "rogue states," such as Iraq or North Korea, or by a terrorist organization.

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