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Bush, Putin Discuss Stockpiles Presidents Attempt To Reduce Nuclear Weapons Arsenals

By Dana Milbank

President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin closed two rain-drenched days of talks here without agreement on how to reduce nuclear stockpiles or the future of missile defenses and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. But both leaders made clear they wouldn’t allow differences over nuclear policy to cause a rift in a relationship that has become far broader.

The Russian president flew to New York Thursday afternoon to tour the destroyed World Trade Center site, completing a trip that began Tuesday at the White House and included a speech in Houston, a barbecue and tour at Bush’s ranch here, and a joint appearance before Crawford High School students Thursday morning.

After their fourth set of meetings this year, the two leaders, backslapping, first-name-using and laughing at each other’s jokes, said their relationship, along with relations between their countries, had been transformed. They played down their most significant disagreement: the future of the 1972 ABM Treaty, which forbids the sort of missile defense tests Bush plans.

Putin, who earlier called the treaty a cornerstone of international stability, presented a more flexible position Thursday. “We share the concerns of the president of the United States ... that we must think of future threats,” Putin said. “We differ in the ways and means we perceive that are suitable for reaching the same objective. And given the nature of the relationship between the United States and Russia, one can rest assured that whatever final solution is found, it will not threaten ... the interests of both our countries and of the world.”

Bush aides pointed to Putin’s remarks as evidence that the United States would be able eventually to proceed with missile defense without a standoff with Russia. “What President Putin said here is extremely important,” national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said Thursday afternoon. “This is now a very broad relationship in which the nature of our nuclear relationship is a small part. This is 180 degrees from where we were with the Soviet Union, which was where it was the only issue, really, in our relationship.”

Bush aides indicated the president, too, had become more flexible about his missile defense plan.