- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 4, 2002

There is a "high probability" that Russia and the United States will make a deal to reduce their offensive nuclear arsenals by the time President Bush travels to Moscow May 23, Russia Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said yesterday.

The Russian minister, who met with President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, gave one of the most upbeat assessments to date of the prospects for a deal as negotiators on both sides struggle to hammer out details on a pact that would cut both sides' nuclear arsenals by about two-thirds.

"We proceed on the premise that there is a very high probability" for an agreement, said Mr. Ivanov, talking to reporters just outside the Oval Office.

Both Mr. Powell and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer were more cautious, with Mr. Fleischer saying Mr. Bush is "hopeful" a breakthrough can occur.

Mr. Powell said that "remaining differences are there, and we are going to have to spend time and keep discussing them."

"If we are unable" to reach an agreement by the summit, then "the work will continue," Mr. Powell said.

The sides are discussing a major arms-control pact, as well as a more general declaration charting the future of U.S.-Russian strategic cooperation. State Department arms-control negotiator John Bolton is set to make at least one more trip to Moscow before Mr. Bush meets Russian President Vladimir Putin for a three-day summit in Moscow and St. Petersburg, U.S. officials said.

Mr. Powell and Mr. Ivanov discussed the outlines of the strategic declaration the two sides hope to issue. Although the talks ended nearly an hour earlier than scheduled, Mr. Powell said both sides were "very encouraged by the progress that we made today."

Mr. Bush has said repeatedly that he wants to get away from the elaborate machinery of past arms-control pacts, but Mr. Fleischer said the United States has not rejected Mr. Putin's request that the arms-control deal be formalized, either in a treaty or an executive agreement.

"The president has always been open to the form it would take," Mr. Fleischer said.

Mr. Bush wants to cut the U.S. long-range nuclear arsenal from 6,000, to from 1,700 to 2,200, saying he would move forward regardless of whether Moscow reciprocates. Mr. Putin has talked about reducing the Russian long-range missile stocks to about 1,500.

The Russians have balked at a U.S. proposal to dismantle but not destroy the excess missiles, and the two sides differ over how to quantify the cuts.

Gennady Seleznev, speaker of the State Duma, Russia's main legislative body, criticized the U.S. proposal as "virtual reductions" during a visit to Washington this week.

"At a certain time, if you want, the warheads could be put back together and reused," Mr. Seleznev said Thursday in a talk at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "We say, if it's a reduction, it should really be a reduction."

Mr. Fleischer characterized yesterday U.S.-Russian relations as "very strong," but Mr. Putin is under pressure at home to deliver concrete benefits for his support of Washington in the global war on terrorism since September 11.

One Russian priority congressional repeal of the Cold War-era Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which prevents normal U.S.-Russian trade relations will not be ready by the time of the summit, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow said this week.

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