Mission to Moscow
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RAY SUAREZ: In the Kremlin’s gilded Andreyevsky Hall, President Bush and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin put their pens to a landmark treaty limiting the number of nuclear warheads for each country to about a tenth of Cold War levels.
The two leaders also signed a strategic framework laying out the differences that remain between the two countries, among them, missile defense. After the signing ceremony, the two Presidents held a news conference.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: It’s an historic and hopeful day for Russia and America. It’s an historic day for the world, as well. President Putin and I today ended a long chapter of confrontation, and opened up an entirely new relationship between our countries.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (Translated): Today we together counteract global threats and challenges, and we’re going to form a stable world order that is within the interests of our peoples and our countries.
RAY SUAREZ: Presidents Bush and Putin were asked why they needed any nuclear weapons at all.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, friends really don’t need weapons pointed at each other. We both understand that. But it’s a realistic assessment of where we’ve been. And who knows what will happen ten years from now? Who knows what future Presidents will say and how they react? We’ve made tremendous progress from the past. And the treaty is setting a period of time in the rear-view mirror of both countries. And I am not only confident that this is good for world peace, am confident this sets the stage for incredible cooperation that we’ve never had before between our countries.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (Translated): In addition to Russia and U.S. Out there, there are other states who possess nuclear arms. What is more concerning, there are countries who want to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Experts in the area of international security are aware of the fact, and they have been talking a lot about nuclear arms as deterrent.
RAY SUAREZ: The two leaders also addressed a major sticking point between them: Russia’s nuclear assistance to Iran.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We spoke very frankly and honestly about the need to make sure that a non-transparent government run by radical clerics doesn’t get their hands on weapons of mass destruction. It could be harmful to us and harmful to Russia.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (Translated): I’d like to point out that cooperation between Iran and Russia is not of a character, which would undermine the process on nonproliferation. Our cooperation is exclusively, as regards energy sector, focused on the problems of economic nature. I’d like to point out, also, that the U.S. has taken a commitment upon themselves to build similar nuclear power plant in North Korea.
RAY SUAREZ: Later in the day, the leaders toured the Kremlin with their wives. Tomorrow they’ll travel to President Putin’s home city of St. Petersburg. And joining us now from Moscow is David Sanger, White House correspondent for The New York Times. He’s been traveling with the President in Europe.
David, let’s start with the basics. What’s in the agreement? What have the two sides promised each other to do?
DAVID SANGER: Ray, the agreement is surprisingly simple and surprisingly short. It’s only three pages long, and it basically says that we will… both sides will reduce their nuclear arsenals to 1,700- 2,200 missiles… I’m sorry, warheads, by 2012. And then, on the day after that, like the tax bill that passed last year, it expires, so it would have to be either amended or extended in order to stay in effect beyond that point ten years from now.
And there is no specificity in the treaty about how quickly you have to move down to that number, although dismantling warheads is, as you know, time- consuming business, and presumably both sides would have to begin now.
RAY SUAREZ: All right. That’s what’s in it. What wasn’t in it?
DAVID SANGER: Well, what’s not in it is what has led to so much criticism of the Administration. First of all, there’s no discussion of what you do with these warheads. Now, the United States is going to put many of them in storage, which means that eventually they could take them back out. President Bush said today that, if, in fact, that with a different President in the United States and in Russia, and there were different times, he could imagine why it is that you might need to still have the significant nuclear force around, although he conceded right away that there’s no reason for one right now.
Secondly, there’s a problem on the Russian side, which is that they really don’t have the money to store these up to American standards. And, of course, there’s long been concern about the security of their existing nuclear stockpiles. And one of the concerns that critics of the agreement have is that these warheads may actually be safer screwed on to the missiles, where at least the military’s guarding them, than separated from the missiles, where presumably a terrorist might or might not be able to get at them.
RAY SUAREZ: Alongside the missile agreement, which has gotten a lot of attention, there’s this thing called the strategic framework. What kind of issues are the United States and Russia signing off on in that other agreement?
DAVID SANGER: The strategic document is really a document that is an agreement to talk about future issues. One of them is Russian participation in designing a missile defense system. A second one is economic relations, which, of course, have been a little bit dicey, on and off, particularly since the collapse of the ruble here in 1998.
The Russian economy has come back, but its trade relationship with the United States is testy, as we’ve seen in this dispute over chickens, which took a remarkable amount of time for the two Presidents to discuss today. And thirdly, there is discussion in it of counter terrorism, an area in which, of course, they have been very cooperative, and the way the Russians have even allowed the placement of American troops and operations near their borders.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, one of the lingering disagreements between the two administrations seems to be about nuclear power in Iran. Tell us more about that.
DAVID SANGER: Well, this was one of the few sour notes in the day. President Bush had said coming into this meeting that he was going to press President Putin to end the nuclear cooperation with Iran. The Russian view of this is that there they’re only helping the Iranians build a commercial nuclear power plant. And today, when asked about it, President Putin compared it to the U.S. aid to North Korea– they give it a proliferation- resistant reactor near Pyongyang. Well, there are a lot of differences with that project, which, of course, the North Koreans have to agree to relatively full inspections before they get their reactor. The Iranians are already building theirs.
The two seem to agree to disagree on this, but what was interesting about it was that had it been any other country, a country with whom President Bush was not seeking a great relationship, he probably, President Bush probably would have been taken a far harder line about this. Instead he simply said, “We’ll keep working on it.”
RAY SUAREZ: Let’s talk a little bit about atmospherics. Both at the signing itself and when you talk to briefers and parts of both administrations, was there really a similar feeling on both sides about what they were getting into and whether this was a historic moment?
DAVID SANGER: Well, it sure looked like an historic moment, Ray. This signing was held in St. Andrew’s Hall, which is inside the Kremlin. It’s one of these three-story gilt and gold rooms that was built by one of the czars, and of course, the czars, many of them, are buried just across Cathedral Square within the Kremlin. So it had the look of old Russia about it. It was burying a Cold War nuclear confrontation, and the discussion was all about building a new relationship with a new Russia. So there was a lot of time shifting today. There was also a lot of clear congeniality between the President and President Putin.
After their bilateral meetings, they went down into Cathedral Square, so much to the surprise of some tourists and a group of young artists who were out in the Square. Mr. Putin showed Mr. Bush around. He may not have been terribly curious. They had scheduled 30 minutes for this, and Mr. Bush managed to do it in seven. But then President Putin escorted President Bush into his private study, which is just off of the Square. And they kept their aides outside and just went in by themselves.
RAY SUAREZ: David Danger in Moscow. Thanks for being with us.
DAVID SANGER: Thank you, Ray.