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Friday, 14 December, 2001, 06:44 GMT
US welcomes Putin's missile pledge
Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers, Secretary of State Colin Powell, President George W Bush
President Bush has withdrawn from the ABM treaty
The US has welcomed a statement from Russian President Vladimir Putin that he intends to drastically cut his nuclear arsenal.

Mr Putin made the announcement in a televised statement on Thursday night, pledging to cut Russia's stockpile from about 6,000 warheads to between 1,500 and 2,200, in response to a similar commitment made by US President George W Bush.

But Mr Putin criticised Mr Bush's decision to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty with Russia, officially announced on Thursday.

This step was not a surprise for us. However, we consider it a mistake

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Mr Putin said the US's withdrawal was a mistake, but it would not harm Russia's security interests.

US officials welcomed Mr Putin's measured tone.

A White House spokesman said: "Russia's announcement of nuclear reductions and its commitment to continue to conduct close negotiations with the United States reflect our shared desire to continue the essential work of building a new relationship for a new century."

Mr Bush's announcement that the US was withdrawing from the ABM treaty had been expected.

"I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government's ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks," Mr Bush said after meeting with his National Security Council.

Russia warning

"Defending the American people is my highest priority as commander in chief and I cannot and will not allow the United States to remain in a treaty that prevents us from developing effective defences," Mr Bush said.

He had informed congressional leaders of his decision on Wednesday.

Earlier on Thursday, the US ambassador in Moscow delivered a formal document informing the Russian Government of the decision and invoking Article 15 of the treaty, which gives Russia six months' notice before the treaty expires.

"This step was not a surprise for us. However, we consider it a mistake," Mr Putin said in a national television broadcast.

The Cold War is long gone. Today we leave behind one of its last vestiges.

President George Bush
"I fully believe that the decision taken by the president of the United States does not pose a threat to the national security of the Russian Federation," he said.

Russia had previously warned that a US withdrawal would trigger a new nuclear arms race and weaken international security.

But Moscow has softened its line in recent months.

The Russian Prime Minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, said on Thursday that the decision was "a cause of annoyance" for Moscow, but that Washington was within its rights.

Click here for details of the nuclear balance

President Bush also emphasised that Russia had no reason to be afraid.

"The Cold War is long gone," Mr Bush said.

"Today we leave behind one of its last vestiges. But this is not a day for looking back. This is a day for looking forward with hope of greater prosperity and peace."

'Agreement with Putin'

The president said that before making his decision he had consulted his security advisers and had discussed the issues with "my friend President Vladimir Putin," over several meetings this year.

Map of missile defence shield plans
The missile shield is in planning stages
But the withdrawal was criticised by Democrat leaders in the American Congress, who worry it could undermine arms control and antagonise Russia and China, despite Mr Bush's assurances.

Mr Bush says that states like North Korea and Iran are ambitiously pursuing weapons of mass destruction and proposes a missile defence system to combat the threat.

Mr Putin has been firmly opposed to the system, saying it would destroy the existing nuclear balance and create a new arms race.

He has said it could eventually undermine the Russian nuclear deterrent.

After President Bush's announcement, the French foreign ministry called for a new international arms agreement to replace the ABM.

"Beyond the American-Russian bilateral relationship, the need to continue to ensure stability in this new global context remains a task for us all," the ministry statement said.

"That supposes, in particular, rules and binding international measures, as much bilateral as multilateral."

Sweden criticised the US decision to withdraw. A foreign ministry statement warned of possibly "serious consequences for the future of international disarmament".

Nuclear arsenal information

Click here to return

The BBC's Robert Parsons
"It came as no surprise"
The BBC's Nick Bryant
"It's an historic break from the past"
President George W Bush
"The ABM treaty hinders our government's ability to protect our people"
Dr James Schlesinger, ex-US defence secretary
"The ABM treaty restricts technology development"
See also:

04 Dec 01 | Americas
Pentagon hails missile test success
14 Nov 01 | Americas
Bush's missile defence dilemma
14 Nov 01 | Americas
Putin pledges 'radical' arms cuts
16 Jul 01 | Europe
Why Russia fears US 'Star Wars'
13 Jul 01 | Americas
Q & A: Son of Star Wars
12 Dec 01 | Americas
ABM Treaty explained
12 Dec 01 | Americas
Analysis: ABM treaty withdrawal
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