U.S. Reassures Russia on Nuke Targeting, Cutbacks

The United States has reassured Russia it is not being eyed as a potential target for nuclear attack and has also agreed to draw up a binding agreement outlining mutual pledges to cut nuclear arsenals, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced Wednesday.

The leaders of the two countries have already agreed on a nuclear agreement. "They would like to have something that would go beyond their two presidencies," Rumsfeld said at a news conference after two days of meetings with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. "Some sort of a document of that type is certainly a likelihood."

Ivanov said he would like to see good progress toward such a document so that it could be signed at a May summit in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Bush.

"We believe there should be a legally binding document which would be comprehensive and understandable for the whole world, and which would also reflect the transparency we need to achieve between the two countries," Ivanov said.

Rumsfeld also sought to reassure Russian officials on the targeting of nuclear weapons issue. The disclosure last weekend of an internal U.S. nuclear review naming Russia and six other countries as potential threats alarmed the Kremlin and leaders of other countries.

"Without getting into the classified details, I can say that the review says nothing about targeting any country with nuclear weapons," Rumsfeld said. "The United States targets no country on a day-to-day basis."

Echoing the comments of other Bush administration officials since news reports of the document appeared, Rumsfeld said the Nuclear Posture Review was not a planning document for possible U.S. action, but merely "sets out prudent requirements for deterrence in the 21st century." Russian officials had been briefed on the document in January.

The document does, however, note Russia has formidable nuclear weapons and "prudently takes this into account," Rumsfeld said.

But relations between the two former nuclear powers has undergone such a fundamental improvement that the two countries no longer view each other as adversaries, Rumsfeld said. "The United States seeks a cooperative relationship with Russia, which moves away from the mutually assured destruction (policy) of the past."

On Tuesday, Ivanov had told reporters "it's quite natural" he would want to discuss the review with the people who prepared it. He told reporters Rumsfeld's public statements about the report accurately reflect its contents.

"Secretary Rumsfeld briefed you on the true situation, and I don't have anything to add here," Ivanov told reporters.

On another sensitive matter, Ivanov also made clear a U.S. plan to send military personnel to help train soldiers in the Republic of Georgia to fight terrorists remains a sensitive topic for Russia.

Ivanov said the United States and Russia would need "the most close cooperation" to effectively help Georgia's government deal with the problem.

Fighters trained in Afghanistan have escaped to the Pankisi Gorge area, which borders Russia's breakaway Chechnya, Ivanov said, and are "full of new plans for terrorist operations." Russia "cannot just sit and watch these activities indifferently," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.