- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 10, 2009

MOSCOW (AP) — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Russia is willing to abandon nuclear weapons, if the United States and all other countries that have them do the same.

“If those who made the atomic bomb and used it are ready to abandon it — like, I hope, other nuclear powers officially and unofficially owning them — of course we will welcome and facilitate this process in all ways,” Putin said, according to state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.

Putin spoke at a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who said earlier that the idea of scrapping nuclear arms altogether rather than limiting their proliferation was a real prospect.

“The goal of global zero is not a game for utopians, but will be taken up by the doyens of U.S. foreign policy as well as by German and Polish politicians,” Steinmeier said.

In a joint declaration on April 1, President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered negotiators to start work on a new treaty reducing their nuclear stockpiles as a first step toward “a nuclear-weapon-free world.”

Eliminating the nuclear threat held by the Cold War enemies was raised at a 1986 summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Putin’s announcement came on the same day as a top Russian general warned of the dangers of cutting the number of nuclear warheads possessed by Russia and the Unites States to less than 1,500 each.

Col.-Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, the chief of the military’s Strategic Missile Forces, said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that it will be up to the Kremlin to make the final decision on how deep the cuts should be.

“We believe that we mustn’t go below 1,500 warheads,” Solovtsov was quoted as saying. “But in any case the issue will be decided by the political leadership.”

Russian and U.S. officials are currently negotiating a successor deal to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START I, which expires in December. Negotiators are to give a progress report to their presidents by the time Obama visits Moscow on July 6-8.

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