- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 25, 2002

MOSCOW President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday signed a treaty to slash their nuclear arsenals, but then accused each other of supplying nuclear and missile technologies to terrorist states.
After Mr. Bush pressed his Russian counterpart to halt nuclear assistance to Iran, Mr. Putin fired back by saying America has provided the same assistance to North Korea and has helped Taiwan develop missiles. Mr. Bush has called Iran and North Korea part of an "axis of evil."
It was an unusually pointed exchange for two leaders who otherwise praised each other during a joint press conference in the Kremlin. They began the session by signing the Treaty of Moscow, which reduces each side's arsenal from 5,000 to 6,000 warheads today to 1,700 to 2,200 within a decade.
"This treaty liquidates the Cold War legacy of nuclear hostility between our two countries," Mr. Bush announced in the opulent Hall of St. Andrews.
"It's an historic and hopeful day for Russia and America. It's an historic day for the world as well," he added.
Mr. Putin said the three-page treaty was the culmination of talks that began in November at Mr. Bush's Texas ranch.
"It's the decision of two states which are particularly responsible for international security and strategic stability," the Russian leader said.
But the leaders were unable to resolve Russia's support of Iran's construction of a nuclear-power plant. The White House fears that Iran will use the technology to develop nuclear weapons, but Moscow insists Tehran is interested only in commercial applications.
"We spent a lot of time on this subject," Mr. Bush told American and Russian reporters. "I worry about Iran, and I'm confident Vladimir Putin worries about Iran."
But Mr. Putin seemed less concerned about Russia's aid to Iran than America's aid to North Korea and Taiwan.
"In addition to Iran, I think we also need to think about other countries here," the former KGB official said. "I'd like to point out also that the United States has taken a commitment upon themselves to build a similar nuclear-power plant in North Korea, similar to Russia."
He was referring to an ongoing American program to help North Korea build a benign nuclear-power reactor to replace a reactor that could be used to develop material for nuclear weapons. Asked by The Washington Times whether Mr. Putin's comparison was fair, a senior administration official declined to comment.
Mr. Putin did not limit his criticism to America's aid to North Korea.
"For example, we have some questions concerning development of missile programs in Taiwan, in some other countries where we've been witnessing active work of producing mass-destruction weapons and their carriers," he said. "All of that should be a subject of our in-depth discussion."
It was not clear whether Mr. Putin was referring to the Taiwan Relations Act, which commits the United States to defend the island from mainland China, or the president's plans for a missile-defense shield for America and its allies. China has been massing short-range missiles opposite Taiwan for more than a year.
Mr. Putin told Mr. Bush before their press conference of Western culpability in proliferation.
"I mentioned to President Bush here that, as regards to Iran and some other countries, according to our data, the missile programs of those countries, nuclear programs, are built largely on the basis of the technologies and with the support of the Western companies," Mr. Putin said.
Mr. Bush spoke of "the need to make sure that a nontransparent government run by radical clerics doesn't get their hands on weapons of mass destruction."
"That could be harmful to us and harmful to Russia," he said.
He added that Mr. Putin "can speak for himself."
"And he gave me some assurances that I think will be very comforting for you to listen to," Mr. Bush said.
But Mr. Putin offered no assurances beyond a general insistence that Moscow is not helping Tehran develop nuclear weapons.
Mr. Bush, who seemed taken aback by Mr. Putin's remarks, fielded the next question by suggesting he could abrogate the Moscow Treaty he had just signed, just as he abrogated the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in December.
"Treaties have always had outs," Mr. Bush said. "Things may change, and people get out of treaties. That's the way it's been. The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty had an out."
Later, during a meeting with Moscow's religious and community leaders, the president alluded to Russia's heavy-handed restrictions on the press. He also took a swipe at Russia's battlefield behavior in the breakaway southern republic of Chechnya.
"The experience in Afghanistan has taught us all that there's lessons to be learned about how to protect one's homeland and, at the same time, be respectful on the battlefield," he said. "And that lesson applies to Chechnya."
A senior administration official added: "It's important to respect human rights." The official acknowledged that while "there is a terrorist problem in Chechnya," the conflict "is not entirely a terrorist issue."
The two leaders also signed a broad statement of principles on such issues as missile defense. It calls for Russia and the United States to cooperate and share some aspects of defense-shield technology.
The two leaders will meet again today in Mr. Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg.


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