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Bush, Putin agree on missile talks

Putin, left, and Bush shake hands after a press conference in Genoa on Sunday
Putin, left, and Bush shake hands after a press conference in Genoa on Sunday  

GENOA, Italy -- U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to tie U.S. plans for building a missile defence shield to talks on reducing nuclear stockpiles.

"The two go hand in hand," Bush said at a news conference after a meeting on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Genoa, Italy, on Sunday.

Bush also said he wanted a new accord to replace the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

Bush described himself and his Russian counterpart as "young leaders who are interested in forging a more peaceful world."

Putin said the linkage was "unexpected," and cautioned that neither country was ready to discuss details.

"We're not ready at this time to talk about threshold limits or the numbers themselves. But a joint striving exists," Putin said.

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U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin agree to hold negotiations on nuclear arms reduction. CNN's John King reports (July 22)

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CNN's European political editor Robin Oakley said Bush had been "optimistic sounding," saying Putin was a "man whom he could have an honest dialogue with."

He added, that talk about reduction in both offensive and defensive weapons, was not a surprise, as both men had been "making noises to this effect" already.

Oakley also said Putin had softened his "strong language" directed in the past at Bush's intention to go alone with missile defence in the face of opposition from other world leaders.

"This is a very different kind of language. The two men are getting on with each other, talking a lot in fringe meetings outside official groupings."

He added, Putin had the dilemma of not wanting to appear a pushover, but also wanting to work with Bush.

Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, will travel to Moscow to begin developing a framework for discussions.

Soon after he became president, Bush directed the Pentagon to consider further cuts in nuclear stockpiles, and has suggested he would be willing to go ahead with reductions with out without comparable cuts by Russia.

The United States has about 7,000 strategic nuclear weapons. Under the START II agreement with Russia, that number will fall to between 3,000 and 3,500.

In 1997, President Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin agreed in principle that a follow-on treaty should reduce the numbers to 2,000 to 2,500. Putin has suggested 1,500 warheads each would be adequate.

Putin said Bush shares with him a desire to "have large cuts in offensive arms, and together we are going to move forward in this direction."

The Russian president has opposed U.S. plans for a missile shield, saying it violates the ABM pact, the Cold War-era treaty designed to curtail the arms race through a built-in vulnerability to nuclear attack.

Putin has said previously that if the United State puts aside the ABM, Russia will tear up all other arms control agreements.

He has also has suggested that Moscow could respond to U.S. moves by fitting multiple warheads to its single warhead missiles.

Asked about that threat on Sunday, Putin said that if the new talks go well "we might not ever need to look at that option, but its one of our options."

Bush expressed hope that the United States and Russia would reach agreement. "We have agreed to find common ground ifpossible," Bush said. "I believe we'll come up with an accord. We'll work hard toward one."

In a joint statement, Bush and Putin said "major changes in the world" compelled them to link offensive and defensive measures.

"We already have some strong and tangible points of agreement. We will shortly begin intensive consultations on the interrelated subjects of offensive and defensive systems," the statement said.

The two leaders also discussed the Kyoto global warming pact, which Bush opposes. Bush declined to answer whether the United States will present its new plan for reducing global warming at a fall international conference.

"We're in the process of developing a strategy as quickly as we possibly can and one we look forward to sharing with our friends and allies," Bush said.

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Bush and Putin met inside the 16th century Palazzo Doria Spinola following their participation in the annual summit of the world's leading industrialized nations.

Sunday's meeting was the second session for Bush and Putin. Their first meeting came during an ice-breaking summit last month in Slovenia.

Putin and Bush are set to meet again at Bush's Texas ranch in the autumn, and during a conference on the Asia-Pacific region in Shanghai, China.

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