- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited President Bush to visit Russia for a summit meeting May 23-25, diplomatic sources said yesterday.

The invitation calls for holding two days of talks, May 23 and 24, in Moscow and one day, May 25, in St. Petersburg, the sources said.

The two leaders are expected to finalize a new arms-control agreement during the proposed meeting.

U.S. officials would not confirm the dates or say whether Mr. Bush's schedule would allow him to accept.

The Russian invitation comes a day after U.S. and Russian officials concluded a round of crucial arms-control talks in Washington.

Mr. Putin repeated yesterday that Moscow wants a new arms-control agreement with the United States to be legally binding, irreversible and verifiable.

He reiterated the Kremlin's position during a meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Interfax news agency reported, quoting the president's spokesman.

The Kremlin has insisted that deep reductions in the two nations' long-range nuclear weapons be codified in a formal treaty. The Bush administration has said it prefers an informal arrangement, but has expressed willingness to give in to the Russian demand.

In November, Mr. Bush pledged to cut U.S. nuclear arsenals to a level of 1,700 to 2,200, while Mr. Putin has said that Russia could go as low as 1,500 warheads.

Yesterday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov also signed documents to expand an existing legal-cooperation pact.

They signed and exchanged documents in a ceremony at the Russian Embassy in Washington that bring into force a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), which will enhance their ability to combat terrorism, drugs, human trafficking and cyber-crime.

"This is a significant step forward in our law-enforcement cooperation. It enhances our ability to combat transnational crime and global terrorism," a U.S. official said.

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