Iran contract overshadows N-deal
MOSCOW, Russia -- Despite a landmark move by the United States and Russia to cut their strategic nuclear forces by roughly two-thirds over 10 years, strains between the two nuclear superpowers remain, analysts said.
They pointed to the fact that under the treaty signed in the Kremlin by Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, the weapons were able to be stored rather than destroyed, which would increase fears of terrorists stealing stored Russian nuclear material. (Full story)
But the major sticking point is Russia's insistence on helping Iran to build a nuclear power plant.
The nuclear weapons pact will cut Washington and Moscow's existing store of roughly 5,000 to 6,000 warheads by about 65 percent over the next decade.
The resulting number of warheads held by each country would range from 1,700 to 2,200.
"This is a historic and hopeful day for Russia and the United States, a hopeful day also for the world as a whole," Bush said after the televised signing of the documents.
"It liquidates the legacy of the Cold War and the nuclear confrontation of our countries."
Putin said: "This is confirmation of our countries' choice to reduce nuclear arsenals."
But the Russian leader was forced to deny U.S. charges that Russia's nuclear technology cooperation with Iran could help Tehran to obtain weapons of mass destruction.
"Cooperation between Russia and Iran is not of a character that would undermine the process of non-proliferation," he said.
The Bush administration says Iran forms part of an "axis of evil" of countries that sponsor terrorism and that nuclear weapons have long been a goal of that country's regime. U.S. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld says the country is already making headway in that regard.
CNN's White House correspondent John King said the Iran nuclear contract remained a major point of contention between the U.S. and Russia.
He said he expected the U.S. to put more pressure on Russia to abandon the deal after next week's Rome summit signing a deal to set up a NATO-Russia council. (NATO chief Robertson interview)
On Thursday, during his visit to Germany, Bush issued a warning to Putin to stop providing weapons technology to Iran. "If you arm Iran, you're liable to have the weapons pointed at you," he said.
But Putin denied the accusations on Friday: "Our cooperation with Iran as far as energy is concerned focuses exclusively on economic issues," he said.
Russia has been helping Iran build the Bushehr civilian nuclear power plant which was described by a Bush aide on Thursday as "the single most important proliferation threat there is."
Iran says the plant is for peaceful purposes while Russia rejected the U.S. allegations as "groundless" and said the U.S. had similar nuclear contracts.
Bush said: "The greatest danger of this war is the prospect of terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction.
"Our nations must spare no effort in preventing all forms of proliferation and we discussed Iran in this context today. We will work closely with each other on this important issue."
Before the nuclear signing ceremony Bush laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Bush told the German politicians that a "new Russia-America partnership is being forged" and the time has come for America and Europe to "throw off old suspicions and realise our common interest with Russia."
He said: "Many generations have looked at Russia with alarm. Our generation can finally lift this shadow from Europe by embracing the friendship of a new democratic Russia.
"In Moscow, President Putin and I will again act upon these interests."
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