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U.S., Russia report progress on nuclear reduction pact

Ivanov and Powell.
Powell, right, with Ivanov on Friday.  

From John King
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Top U.S. and Russian diplomats reported progress Friday in reaching an agreement on strategic nuclear arms reductions before President Bush's summit later this month with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A senior administration official told CNN the two sides reached agreement about the storage of decommissioned warheads and the counting of nuclear launch sites, two core issues previously in dispute.

Emerging from a meeting with Bush, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said there was a "very high probability" of reaching a final agreement before the Moscow summit.

Secretary of State Colin Powell was similarly upbeat after a later meeting with Ivanov, though he said differences between the two sides remain.

"I'm encouraged by the progress we've made," he said. "Remaining differences are there, and we need to spend more time working on them and discussing them to see if we can resolve them in time for the Moscow summit. If we can, fine. And if we're unable to, the work will continue."

Powell declined to describe what differences remain between U.S. and Russian negotiators. He is expected to meet with Ivanov one last time before the May 23 Moscow summit when the two men attend the NATO ministerial meeting in Iceland later this month.

The agreement would be a landmark pact to dramatically reduce the active strategic nuclear arsenals of the former Cold War rivals, with the goal of cutting each side's nuclear arsenals by roughly two-thirds.

Bush has proposed slashing the U.S. long-range nuclear arsenal from about 6,000 warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads. Putin has said he is open to cutting Moscow's arsenal to about 1,500 warheads.

One major issue in the negotiations has been whether the warheads would be destroyed or just dismantled and put into storage. Russia prefers that they be destroyed, while the United States wants to put a number of warheads in storage to be available in an emergency.

A senior administration official told CNN that the sides have agreed not to have a requirement to destroy the warheads, leaving the United States flexibility in storing them.

"We have now identified a formula which allows us to do what we want to do and them to do what they want to do," the official said. "We don't have to destroy them."

The two sides also reached agreement on a formula for counting nuclear launch sites, previously a sticking point. Under the new agreement, each launch site will be counted as one, even if it has the capacity to carry multiple warheads.

Negotiators said a Russian counterproposal on that issue in recent weeks cleared the way for progress.

Powell said another issue still to be determined is whether the binding agreement between the two sides would be an executive agreement or a formal treaty, which would require Senate approval.

Bush said at the beginning of the debate that a handshake agreement with Putin would be acceptable to him, but the Russians have been pressing for a formal treaty.

"Both a treaty and an executive agreement are legally binding in international law," Powell said. "It's a political judgment we'll be making in the days ahead."

The senior administration official said several "non-core issues" remain, including how the agreement would be implemented, a mechanism to resolve disputes and a procedure as to how either side might withdraw from the agreement down the line.

"We made progress on all the core issues, on some of the non-core issues both sides felt they needed to confer," this official said, but added "there's light at the end of the tunnel."

-- CNN Correspondents John King and Andrea Koppel and Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.




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