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Clinton, Putin discuss Balkans, arms control, missile defense
NEW YORK (CNN) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin met on Wednesday in New York and discussed pro-democracy efforts in the Balkans, arms control, missile defense and continued Russian technology transfers to Iran.
Strobe Talbott, deputy secretary of state, told reporters the two leaders met for 90 minutes at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. It was their third meeting since Putin was elected president in March.
Talbott described the talk as "comfortable and no-nonsense." Another U.S. official said Putin has picked up a little English since and joked that Clinton appeared tired and needed two Diet Cokes as a pick-me-up.
Clinton noted that the Russian leader had just traveled from Japan and also appeared jet-lagged, the official said.
The American president expressed condolences on behalf of the United States for Russian lives lost when the submarine Kursk sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea last month. All 118 crew members aboard the sub died.
Clinton also told Putin he was concerned about Serbian aggression in Montenegro, Serbia's only remaining partner in the Yugoslav federation. Montenegro has a pro-Western President, Milo Djukanovic, and Montenegrin authorities have said they will boycott elections on September 24 in which Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is seeking re-election.
American imprisoned in Russia
The sharpest exchange between the two men dealt with continued sales of military technology from Russia to Iran. Talbott told reporters the U.S. president told Putin that continued sales "would be an obstacle to cooperation on other issues."
Putin said he understood U.S. concerns and offered assurances that he and the Russian government were "working hard" on the issue.
Clinton also raised the issue of the well-being of U.S. businessman Edmund Pope of Pennsylvania. The Russians are holding Pope in a dilapidated prison on charges of espionage. Pope's wife and U.S. doctors have been unable to visit him to assess his condition, which his wife fears is deteriorating by the day due to his diabetes.
Putin told Clinton he "understood" the importance of the Pope issue but made no commitments to allow U.S. doctors to visit him. The United States believes there is no basis for Pope's arrest and has pressed aggressively behind the scenes for his release.
Russia proposes summit on missiles in space
The two leaders signed a document committing both nations to improving strategic security of nuclear weapons. This is in keeping with previous agreements -- signed at the Moscow Summit and G-8 Summit in Okinawa, Japan -- to share information on nuclear weapons.
Clinton told Putin that changes would have to be made in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty before the United States could engage in the next round of nuclear arms reduction talks, known as START III, Talbott said.
Talbott said Clinton's decision to delay a decision on deployment of a limited national missile defense system "took pressure off the meeting," but that Putin understood the delay did not take the issue of missile defense "off the table."
Meanwhile, the White House reacted coolly Wednesday to Putin's call for a U.N.-sponsored summit in Moscow devoted to keeping outer space free of anti-ballistic missile systems.
During his speech Wednesday to the U.N. Millennium Summit, Putin said the time had come for the world to halt discussion of space-based defense systems. He said the summit should occur on April 12, 2001 -- the 40th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic space flight. The Soviet air force pilot, who completed a full orbit of the Earth, was the first man in space
A senior U.S. official told CNN the White House would "carefully review" Putin's recommendations. But the official emphasized that the U.S. would object to any attempt to "arbitrarily limit military uses in space."
The official said the U.S. and Russia already benefit from satellites in space that monitor nuclear weapons facilities. Information from these satellites is crucial in the shared-early warning systems that the United States and Russia have vowed to use to coordinate information about activities at nuclear weapons sites worldwide.
Putin's remarks in no way alluded to these uses of satellites in space but appeared targeted specifically at moves in the U.S. to deploy a space-based missile-defense system. The administration official conceded as much and said the U.S. would continue discussions with Russia over how "to use space to its fullest potential."
China has also objected to a U.S. missile-defense system. Both Beijing and Moscow considered Clinton's decision to defer a deployment decision past his term a joint victory. Clinton will meet Friday with Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who is expected to lobby for cancellation of the U.S. missile defense plan.
Russia reveals plans to recover Kursk dead
The Government of the Russian Federation
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