President Bush said, “Russia’s a friend and that’s the new thinking. That’s part of what’s being codified today.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin echoed Mr. Bush’s comments, saying the pact was a major step forward.
“This is a serious move ahead to ensure international security,” Putin said.
The treaty effectively slashes both countries’ nuclear arsenals by two-thirds, shrinking the number of roughly 6,000 nuclear warheads apiece to between 1,700 and 2,200 over the next 10 years.
“Friends really don’t need weapons pointed at each other, we both understand that,” President Bush said.
Despite the proclamations of friendship, Mr. Bush rejected the disposal of all nuclear stockpiles.
“It’s a realistic assessment of where we’ve been,” the president said when questioned by a reporter. “Who knows what will happen 10 years from now? Who knows what future presidents will say and how they’ll react.”
President Putin also defended a more modest nuclear arsenal as necessary.
“Out there, there are other states who possess nuclear arms,” Putin said. “There are countries that want to acquire weapons of mass destruction.”
The U.S. Senate and Russian Duma must now approve the treaty.
Although the arms pact is likely to be the highlight of the Bush-Putin summit, deep divisions still exist between the two nations.
The U.S. has expressed concerned over Russia’s continued nuclear assistance to Iran, which the Bush administration contends could allow Iran to develop and deploy nuclear weapons.
“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,” President Bush said.
However, Putin gave little ground, defending the Russia-Iran relationship as largely energy-related and pointing out that the United States has similarly helped North Korea with nuclear power.
The two presidents also signed a “strategic framework” document, laying out political and security challenges remaining between the two countries, including future cooperation on missile defense.
The document was a concession to Putin, who has opposed the White House decision to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and pursue a system that could destroy missiles launched at the U.S. mainland.