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Sunday, 22 July, 2001, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Breakthrough on US missile plan
George W Bush and Vladimir Putin
Breakthrough: The two leaders agree to hold talks
US President George W Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to hold talks about linking American plans for building a missile defence shield to reducing both nations' nuclear stockpiles.

We are young leaders who are interested in forging a more peaceful world

George W Bush
The breakthrough was announced following a meeting between the two leaders at the G8 summit in Genoa.

BBC diplomatic editor Brian Hanrahan says Mr Putin had previously flatly refused to discuss the American anti-missile shield plans, known as "son of star wars".

At a news conference following their meeting, the leaders said they wanted to hold talks on both offensive and defensive options as a package.

"The two go hand-in-hand," Mr Bush said, adding that he wanted a new accord to replace the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which proscribes anti-missile systems.

"We have agreed to find common ground if possible. I believe we'll come up with an accord. We'll work hard toward one."

Minuteman II missile
The US has begun testing its anti-missile system
Mr Bush described himself and his Russian counterpart as "young leaders who are interested in forging a more peaceful world".

Mr Putin, speaking through an interpreter, said the announcement on linking offensive and defence weapons was "unexpected".

He added: "We're not ready at this time to talk about threshold limits or the numbers themselves. But a joint striving exists."

Mr Putin had previously warned that if the US breached the ABM Treaty, Russia would tear up all other arms-control agreements.

Asked about that threat on Sunday, Mr Putin said that if the new talks went well, "we might not ever need to look at that option, but it's one of our options".

He added that Mr Bush shared his desire to "have large cuts in offensive arms, and together we are going to move forward in this direction".

We clearly want an aggressive schedule to see how quickly we may be able to sketch out an agreement

Condoleezza Rice,
US national security adviser
Mr Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, will travel to Moscow on Tuesday to begin discussing what the US administration has described as a new security framework.

"We expect to move quickly," she told reporters. "We clearly want an aggressive schedule to see how quickly we may be able to sketch out an agreement."

Mr Bush's moves to build a missile defence shield, which US defence officials have said could violate the ABM Treaty within months - have divided America's allies in Europe and infuriated Russia.

Mr Putin had said that the US was not adequately explaining why it wants to scuttle the ABM treaty, which was designed to curtail the nuclear arms race through by making all sides vulnerable to nuclear attack.

Moscow fears a US missile defence system would prompt an arms race Russia could not afford, as well as disrupt international stability.

Soon after he became president, Mr Bush ordered the Pentagon to consider further cuts in nuclear stockpiles, and has suggested he would be willing to go ahead with reductions without comparable cuts by Russia.

Ranch meeting

The United States has about 7,000 strategic nuclear weapons. Under the Start II agreement with Russia, that number will fall to between 3,000 and 3,500.

In 1997, then US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin agreed in principle that a follow-on treaty should drop the numbers to 2,000. Mr Putin has suggested 1,500 warheads each would be adequate.

The two leaders also discussed the Kyoto global warming pact, which Mr Bush opposes on the grounds that its proposed cuts in greenhouse gas emissions would hurt the US economy

They are due to meet again at Mr Bush's Texas ranch this autumn, and during a conference on the Asia-Pacific region in Shanghai, China.

The BBC's Bridget Kendall
"A dramatic announcement on arms control"
The BBC's Brian Hanrahan
reports from Genoa
Joseph Cirincione, Carnegie Endowment for Peace
"Most everyone in Washington was surprised - pleasantly surprised - by what happened"
See also:

22 Jul 01 | Europe
Bush gives ground on arms deal
17 Jul 01 | Americas
Bush firm on Kyoto and missiles
15 Jul 01 | Americas
Russia condemns US missile test
15 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Shanghai summit backs ABM Treaty
14 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
China warns against US missile defence
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