HOUSTON Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday said the September 11 tragedy brought Russia and the United States closer together than at any time in recent history.
To rousing cheers from several hundred business leaders and students at Rice University, where he spoke en route to President Bush’s Texas ranch, Mr. Putin praised the American-led efforts in Afghanistan and said Russia would stand strong against terrorism.
“We’re are reaching our goals,” he said, referring to the apparent big gains made against the Taliban in the past few days, “and I am confident it will continue in the future.”
The Russian president said that sharp reductions in nuclear weapons, agreed on in the Bush-Putin meetings in Washington earlier this week, were long overdue.
Previous arms-reduction agreements have been “absolutely insufficient,” Mr. Putin said, and that he and Mr. Bush can act to “make the world a much safer place to live than the world we face now.”
The thousands of nuclear warheads now held by Russia and the United States, he said, “could destroy many nations many times over.”
Only “a madman,” he added, would “think of such a scenario.”
Mr. Putin warned that despite the recent flurry of concern about bombings, peaceful nations should not forget that biological and chemical weapons might be the next major concern. He said Russia is well-qualified to take a leading role in combating such terrorist weapons.
Former President George Bush introduced Mr. Putin. The elder Mr. Bush remarked that his son appreciated the fact that Mr. Putin was the first world leader to contact the White House after the September 11 attacks.
“You’ll never know how much that gesture of concern and support meant to the American people,” the former president told Mr. Putin.
Only after September 11 did Russia and the United States understand “how much we needed each other,” said Mr. Putin. “We became aware of what it meant to be together.”
Mr. Putin spoke with pride of U.S.-Russian cooperation in many areas, particularly in space exploration, medicine and education.
He made a strong pitch to scores of business leaders presen that Russia had made it easier for foreign corporations to do business there.
“Your risks are much lower than a couple years ago,” Mr. Putin said.
Once the Taliban regime is completely defeated, he said, a successor government should exclude any Taliban members.
The Russian president conceded that some Russians and Americans probably did not trust each other completely as a result of the lengthy Cold War. In fact, he observed, “The past decade was not always positive.”
But, he said, “we must respond to the realities of the day.”
“The Cold War must stop clutching at our sleeves,” he added.
Mr. Putin mentioned what he termed “an old Russian proverb, ‘an apple does not fall far from the tree’” obviously referring to the two Bushes and said he felt certain “the baton is in reliable hands.”