President Bush returned to the White House Monday after meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin that suggest the United States and Russia are more unified than ever since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Washington and New York.
President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday that the disaster has brought the countries closer and raised hopes that they can agree on a missile defense system in the U.S. and on cutbacks in nuclear arsenals.
"The thing that's really bound us together most right now is our common desire to fight terrorism," Bush said after their third meeting in five months. Talks will resume when Putin visits the United States in three weeks.
Bush pushed negotiations forward when he privately encouraged Putin to compromise quickly or risk losing the chance to reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
White House officials said later that Bush is prepared to go forward with missile shield plans without Russia unless a deal can be struck by January. Indeed, his advisers recommended that Bush impose the deadline during one-on-one talks with Putin, but the president decided at the last minute not to personally deliver the message.
Though eager to build a missile shield, Bush does not want to push Putin too hard because Russia is critical to the success of U.S. military assaults on terrorist-harboring Afghanistan.
The meeting, a spicy mix of politics and promise, took place at the close of an Asia-Pacific economic summit that focused on the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.
The 20 leaders approved a statement condemning the "murderous deeds" of the Sept. 11 suicide hijackers. In a setback for Bush, they failed to mention Afghanistan or Usama bin Laden — suspected mastermind of the attacks on Washington and New York.
Furthermore, several leaders, including Chinese President Jiang Zemin and the Russian president, urged Bush to end the war as soon as possible. Bush has said it could last two years.
In a brief news conference, Bush said the Asian leaders defied terrorists merely by meeting under one roof and denied that their support of the United States was soft.
"It was strong, it was steady, and it's real," he said.
The president has ambitious but untested plans for a defense system that could protect the United States and its allies from missiles launched by Iraq, North Korea or other rogue states. Russia and several other nations fear developing an anti-missile shield would spark another nuclear arms race.
Bush and Putin agreed in July to pursue talks along two parallel tracks: Putin's desire to reduce costly nuclear stockpiles and Bush's wish to scuttle the 29-year-old Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty that forbids anti-missile tests.
"The events of September 11 make it clearer than ever that a Cold War ABM treaty that prevents us from defending our people is outdated and, I believe, dangerous," the president said.
Putin reiterated his support of the treaty, saying it brings an "element of stability" to the world, but seemed open to Bush's argument that the world must adapt to increasing threats.
"We should react adequately to possible threats in the future," Putin said.
Putin later seemed to dismiss Bush's claim that the Sept. 11 attacks, and the possibility that terrorists could commandeer missiles, heightened the need for a missile shield
"It would be difficult for me to agree that some terrorists will be able to capture intercontinental missiles and will be able to use them," Putin said.
Bush advisers said they believe an agreement to scuttle or amend the ABM is likely, possibly in mid-November when the Russian visits Washington and Bush's ranch in Texas. They are counting on Putin being afraid that he'll be left empty handed — still forced to maintain an expensive nuclear stockpile to counter the U.S. arsenal — if Bush scuttles the ABM on his own.
Bush must give six months' notice to pull out of the ABM and begin testing anti-missile systems. The Pentagon has said those tests are just weeks or months away, thus it was no surprise that Bush turned up the pressure on Putin here.
Heading into the meeting, briefing papers prepared for the president set a beginning-of-the-year deadline. Administration officials leaked the plans hours before the session, assuring pressure on Putin even if Bush didn't push the case himself.
The leaders reported progress on both Bush's missile shield dreams and Putin's desire to cut nuclear arms.
Despite his opposition to the ABM, Putin said, "I believe we do have understanding that we can reach agreement."
Bush said, "We discussed significantly lowering offensive nuclear weapon arsenals within a framework that includes limited defenses."
Bush praised Putin both for his help in Afghanistan and for standing down the Russian military on Sept. 11, an act that Bush said melted away any remnants of the Cold War.
The United States has about 7,000 strategic nuclear weapons, Russia about 6,000. Under the START II agreement with Russia, that number will fall to between 3,000 and 3,500. In 1997, President Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin agreed in principle that a START III treaty should cut numbers to 2,000 to 2,500.
Soon after he became president, Bush directed the Pentagon to consider further cuts in nuclear weapons, while Putin has suggested reductions to 1,500 warheads each — about one-fifth of the current U.S. stockpile.
After month's of study, Bush's military advisers will soon recommend how far the United States can reduce its nuclear stockpiles in order to entice Putin to accept changes in the ABM.
That review was supposed to be completed in time for Sunday's meetings, but the military team has been busy preparing for the conflict in Afghanistan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.