Bush decides on N-weapons deal
By CNN White House Correspondent Kelly Wallace
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. President George W. Bush says he has "reached a decision" about how far he can go in cutting America's nuclear stockpile, but will convey the details to Russian President Vladimir Putin before making them public.
"I think it's best that I share with Mr. Putin the acceptable level of offensive weapons before I do with you," Bush told a reporter during a news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Bush and his Russian counterpart will hold a summit next week.
The United States and Russia have been trying to reach an agreement concerning U.S. plans for a missile defense system and cuts in both countries' nuclear arsenals.
The Pentagon has advised Bush the United States needs between 1,800 and 2,250 weapons to provide U.S. security, down from current levels of about 7,000, analysts told Reuters news agency.
Russia, which is having trouble finding the money to maintain its own nuclear arsenal, would like to persuade Washington to go as low as 1,500 deployed warheads. Russia now has about 6,000 deployed warheads.
'Move beyond treaty'
While Bush stayed mum about the weapons reduction, he did say that a formal arms control agreement would not be needed, adding that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is "outmoded and outdated."
The ABM treaty, for three decades the bedrock of U.S.-Soviet nuclear stability, prevents any nation from developing a defense system and is considered by Bush a Cold War relic.
The United States hopes an agreement on missile cuts will help persuade Russia to go along with scrapping the treaty to allow U.S. testing of a missile defense system.
"We need to move beyond it," Bush said. "I've been telling the president ever since I've been meeting with him... If he's got some interesting suggestions on how to make the ABM treaty not outdated and not outmoded, I'd be more than willing to listen."
Putin has signaled a willingness to talk about adjusting the ABM treaty to allow the U.S. to test a missile defense system, as long as such a deal is linked with cuts in both countries' offensive weapons.
Bush said he believes the September 11th attacks show "we need more than ever" to "develop defenses to protect ourselves against weapons of mass destruction that might fall into the hands of terrorist nations."
Washington has made "substantial progress" in trying to reach a deal with Russia, but there is no guarantee next week's meetings in Washington and at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, will produce a deal, senior administration officials say.
But because the level of animosity and the basis of arsenals have changed, it is possible that any agreement reached will not "need the reams of treaties and the months of negotiations," they add.
The officials said it could be that the two countries will decide on a range for each stockpile.
U.S. officials have said that next week's meeting is being viewed as "another step" in building a relationship in the "post, post Cold War world."
"We are carefully optimistic," they added.
Putin arrives in Washington Monday evening for talks with Bush at the White House Tuesday.
The two men then travel separately to the president's ranch Wednesday where they will spend about 24 hours together before Putin departs Thursday.
The Bush advisers said they "don't have precise dates yet" for a Bush trip to Moscow but that the president is looking at visits and meetings with Putin.
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