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IN THE NEWS - May 18, 2002: US/Russia Arms Reduction Agreement - 2002-05-17

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, IN THE NEWS.

Russia and the United States have reached an agreement to reduce the number of nuclear weapons they possess. Russian and American diplomats have been negotiating the deal for months. President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin say they will sign the treaty next week when Mister Bush visits Moscow.

Mister Bush said the signing will begin a new period in relations between the United States and Russia. He said it will make the world more peaceful and put old aggressions in the past. President Putin said he was pleased that negotiators had been able to settle the final differences.

The agreement calls for each country to cut its nuclear weapons by two-thirds during the next ten years. That would mean a reduction for each side from about six-thousand nuclear weapons now to as few as one-thousand-seven-hundred. However, the weapons do not have to be destroyed. They can be removed from deployment and stored.

The United States has always demanded that the weapons not have to be destroyed. Russia always objected to this demand. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov says his government still opposes the American position that the weapons only need to be taken out of deployment.

Some lawmakers in the United States also think the agreement should call for the destruction of the weapons. Democratic Representative Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts called the agreement a great step. But, he said destroying weapons would make sure that terrorists would never gain possession of them.

Russia made other compromises to reach agreement. For example, the plan does not contain any restrictions on the United States plan to build a missile defense system. The agreement also permits either side to withdraw from the treaty if such a withdrawal is announced at least ninety days before it happens. And, the treaty ends in ten years with no conditions that it be extended.

President Bush’s administration wanted these terms if there was to be any treaty at all. Mister Bush had earlier suggested that he would be satisfied with a spoken agreement. But, Mister Putin wanted an official and legal treaty. Experts believe the treaty will generally help the Russia in its effort to become a more involved member of the international community. The cuts will permit the Russian government to spend more money on anti-terrorism measures and the fight against the illegal drug trade.

Russian and American negotiators still have work to do on issues linked to the new weapons agreement. For example, they did not decide how to confirm weapons reductions. But they believe they will be able to create such a plan during more talks after the treaty is signed next week.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.