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Europe

US and Russia Bury the Cold War Hatchet

It divided Germany and the world, but with the historic signing of an arms reduction treaty in Moscow, Bush and Putin say the countdown to Doomsday has been stopped.

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Start of a new era: President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin

George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin on Friday signed an agreement aimed at reducing by two thirds the number of long-range nuclear warheads deployed by the United States and Russia. They also pledged to increase cooperation in the war against terrorism.

"This is a historic and hopeful day for Russia and America," Bush said as he started his first visit to Moscow. "President Putin and I today ended a long chapter of confrontation and opened up an entirely new relationship between our two countries." He added that the agreement "liquidates the Cold War legacy of nuclear hostility."

At a ceremony in the Kremlin's gilded Andreyevsky Hall, the presidents formalized the first nuclear disarmament agreement between their countries since January 1993. The ceremony served as the centerpiece of a four-day summit that will also include a visit to Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg.

Massive cutbacks

Under the landmark treaty, the two sides plan to reduce their arsenals by around two-thirds. The treaty is intended to reduce the number of warheads in Russia and the U.S. from an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 today to about 1,700 to 2,200 warheads within a decade.

The deal came after the U.S. announced its withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in December. That treaty precluded the U.S. from deploying a missile defense system it is seeking to build in order to protect itself from weapons of mass destruction.

"Pootie-Poot" and K Street's Finest

The treaty marks a new era of cooperation for the two nations. Indeed, both Bush and Putin offered comedic exchanges during the signing ceremony. The Russian president, who is often regarded as stiff, joked that "the best lobbyist of the interests of U.S. companies is the American president standing here."

Bush, for his part, has nicknamed the leader of America's Cold War nemesis "Pootie-Poot."

But the event also had more somber moments keeping in line with the historic magnitude of the occasion.

Putin, who knows his cash-strapped country can't afford to maintain its Cold War arsenal any longer, was more measured: "It is a decision taken by two countries on behalf of international security and strategic stability."

Critics of the treaty point out that under its terms, either side is allowed to store weapons for possible later use. Additionally, the treaty can be called off with three months notice from Moscow or Washington.

Tension over Iran

The Russian president also publicly clashed with Bush over U.S. criticism of a Russian program that is helping Iran to build a nuclear power plant. The Bush adminstration worries that the nuclear plant could be converted to produce materials used in the construction of nuclear weapons.

"I'd like to point out that cooperation between Iran and Russia is not of a character which would undermine the process of non-proliferation," Putin said. "Our cooperation is exclusively as regards to the energy sector focused on the problems of an economic nature."

German government applauds treaty

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer greeted Friday's development, describing the agreement as a step in the path to a final disposal of the nuclear arsenal. The government also called on the countries to decisively fight to eliminate the global danger that nuclear weapons represent.

After visiting with Putin, President Bush will fly on to France for meetings with recently re-elected President Jacques Chirac.

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