- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

The United States and Russia ended their second round of nuclear arms negotiations in a gridlock yesterday over Washington's plans to build a missile defense and Moscow's nuclear and missile cooperation with Iran.

The two countries hoped to reach an agreement to cut offensive nuclear weapons before President Bush's visit to Russia in May, but a senior U.S. negotiator warned of potential failure if some "difficult issues" were not resolved.

"Both presidents are extremely interested in reaching an agreement, but surprising things can happen beside the best intentions," John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told reporters in Moscow. "It may seem like a long time, but May is just around the corner."

At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said Mr. Bolton and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov had worked on a "legally binding agreement on reductions in strategic offensive weapons and other associated documents."

They "will be meeting in a few weeks' time to continue their negotiations," Mr. Boucher said.

Mr. Bolton said that, after his talks with Mr. Mamedov, he met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to offer the U.S. view on where things stood.

"We have a number of difficult issues, questions about how exactly to account for the offensive, strategic warheads, measures of transparency and verification," Mr. Bolton said.

He said Washington would agree to an accord limiting only the number of "operationally deployed" nuclear warheads not the number of warheads it could keep in reserve after taking them out of commission.

Washington's plans to build a missile-defense system and Moscow's economic and military cooperation with Iran emerged as the thorniest issues in the talks.

Mr. Bolton said the Bush administration was "not about to begin" negotiations on limitations for a missile shield, as the Russians demanded.

He also said the two countries had "disagreement" about the extent of Russia's cooperation with Iran on its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. "How could any Russian citizen see any benefit whatsoever from a nuclear-equipped, ballistic-missile-ready Iran?" he said.

Mr. Ivanov said Washington and Moscow still had "different approaches" to nuclear disarmament despite some "common understandings."

"For now, the two sides are keeping to different approaches concerning a document on radical cuts [in nuclear arms] and a framework agreement on new partnership relations between Russia and the United States," he said.

The Bush administration, abandoning its reluctance to lock the United States into a new strategic arms-control agreement with Russia, said earlier this month it would sign a legally binding document.

Although both Washington and Moscow committed to reducing their nuclear arsenals by two-thirds in November, the United States earlier had been resisting Russia's call for a formal accord.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Washington and Crawford, Texas, three months ago, Mr. Bush pledged to slash the U.S. arsenal to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads from the current level of about 7,000 over 10 years.

Mr. Putin responded by announcing cuts to between 1,500 and 2,000 warheads from about 6,000.

Mr. Bush suggested that a handshake would be enough to accept the mutual pledges. Mr. Putin, however, pointed out that "the world is far from having international relations that are built solely on trust."

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