WASHINGTON – President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin both pledged Tuesday to reduce Cold War-era nuclear arsenals by two-thirds, the lowest level in decades.
"The current levels of our nuclear forces do not reflect today's strategic realities. I have informed President Putin that the United States will reduce our operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads to a level between 1,700 and 2,200 over the next decade," Bush said.
The president made the widely expected announcement as he and Putin appeared for their first joint press conference during a three-day summit taking place in Washington and Crawford, Texas. After the conference, the president departed for Crawford.
"We no longer have to intimidate each other to reach agreements," Putin said a few hours later at the Russian Embassy in Washington. "Security is created not by piles of metal or weapons. It is created by political will of people, nation states and their leaders."
Putin did not mention any figures, but has previously suggested going as low as 1,500. He said the agreement is a vivid example of the nature of improved Russian-American relations.
Asked by a Russian reporter how verification would occur, Bush responded that a new relationship based upon trust is one that doesn't need endless hours of verification of nuclear arms reduction.
"I looked the man in the eye and shook his hand, but if we need to write it down I will be glad to do that," Bush said.
However, the leaders did not come to an agreement on the status of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, which Bush wants to eliminate in order to pursue his policy for a missile defense shield.
Bush said he thinks the treaty "codified a relationship that no longer exists. It codified a hateful relationship and now we've got a friendly relationship," he said.
It was hoped Putin would informally agree not to call U.S. missile defense tests a violation of the ABM treaty, the idea being that Putin will be able to preserve the treaty, which he calls a cornerstone of global stability, and Bush will be able to build the defense system that he says the Sept. 11 attacks demonstrate is needed now more than ever.
No such agreement came, but Putin said it is too early to draw the line on missile defense discussions.
"On the issues of missile defense, the position of Russia remains unchanged, and we agreed to continue dialogue and consultations on this," he said.
Speaking to reporters in the East Room, the two men spoke positively about the warming relationship between the two nations, a direct result of the men's personal relationship, which began when the two leaders met in Slovenia earlier this year and then again shortly afterward in Genoa, Italy.
Putin and Bush said they had agreed to develop a joint Russian-American dialogue on media entrepreneurship to advance free speech in Russia. The two also came to terms on improving economic cooperation, including helping Russia's ascent to the World Trade Organization, and rewarding Russia for its improvements on immigration and ethnic minority rights with improved trade relations.
Bush said the summit marks "a new day in the long history of Russian-American relations, a day of progress and a day of hope."
"Because we are working together both are countries and the world are more secure and safe," he added.
Putin also chimed in on that sentiment.
"We intend to dismantle conclusively the vestiges of the Cold War and develop an entirely new partnership for the long term," he said.
The warming relationship also was apparent on the issue of how to create a new government in Afghanistan, rapidly becoming a focal point of the war on terror following the fall of Kabul, the Afghan capital and Taliban stronghold, to Northern Alliance troops.
Putin and Bush shared concerns over Northern Alliance occupation of Kabul and possible human rights violations. Putin said he understood that Kabul had been abandoned by the Taliban and was lawless so Northern Alliance leaders had no choice but to go in and restore some order. But the former KGB leader said he wanted proof that Northern Alliance troops were committing atrocities.
"It is very difficult for me to imagine them shooting their own population. I utterly exclude this. If there are any instances in the course of the military action of the violation of human rights and treatment of the prisoners of war, we must investigate and take action, but we need proof," Putin said.
Bush said he would not be surprised if atrocities were being committed, but he wanted to remind the Northern Alliance that they must now come to the table and work on a coalition government to replace the Taliban.
"We will continue to work with the Northern Alliance to make sure they recognize that in order for there to be a stable Afghanistan, which is one of our objectives, after the Taliban leaves, that the country be a good neighbor and that they must recognize that a future government must include representatives from all of Afghanistan," Bush said.
"There's no preferential place at the bargaining table," he added.
Putin also extended his condolences to the president and the American people over Monday's plane crash in the United States.
He complimented America for bravely facing the tragedy and turned a Russian phrase that resembles an American expression: "The tragedy does not come alone; tragedies always come in many numbers."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.