- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

The Bush administration, abandoning its reluctance to lock the United States into a new strategic arms-control agreement with Russia, yesterday said it would sign a legally binding document as early as May.
Although both Washington and Moscow committed to reducing their nuclear arsenals by two-thirds in November, the United States had been resisting Russia's call for a formal accord, arguing that it wanted to avoid treaties reminiscent of the Cold War.
But yesterday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Washington was "hard at work on an agreement to record these commitments."
"We do expect that, as we codify this framework, it will be something that will be legally binding and we are examining different ways in which this can happen," Mr. Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "It can be an executive agreement on which both houses of Congress might like to speak or it might be a treaty."
Both U.S. and Russian officials said they expect the agreement to be signed by President Bush and Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, during their summit in Moscow in late May.
When the two presidents met in Washington and Crawford, Texas, three months ago, Mr. Bush pledged to slash the U.S. arsenal to 1,700 to 2,200 warheads from the current level of about 7,000 over 10 years. Mr. Putin responded by announcing cuts to 1,500 to 2,000 warheads from about 6,000.
Mr. Bush suggested that a handshake would be enough to accept the mutual pledges, saying, "We don't need an arms-control agreement." Mr. Putin, however, pointed out that "the world is far from having international relations that are built solely on trust."
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who presided over the hearing, echoed Mr. Putin's comment.
"Any understanding with Russia on the future of our respective nuclear arsenals must, in my view, rest on more than a handshake," he said. "Any formal agreement on mutual force reductions should be in the form of a treaty."
American and Russian officials discussed disarmament proposals last week in Washington, Mr. Powell said yesterday. Another round is scheduled for later this month in Moscow.
In his testimony, the secretary also predicted a large expansion of NATO at the alliance's Prague summit in November. "I'm not prepared to say today how many of the aspirants will be invited, but I think it's going to be a pretty good-sized addition to the membership," he said. "The standard will be: Do they contribute to the alliance? Have they met the standards of the Membership Action Plan?"
Nine Central and Eastern European countries Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia have applied to join the pact.


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