Bush, Putin fail to reach agreement on ABM treaty, missile defense

Thursday, November 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) _ President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin failed to strike a deal Thursday on the issue that has divided them the most, U.S. plans for a national missile defense, even as they hailed a new era of warm U.S-Russian cooperation.

``We have a difference of opinion,'' Bush said at the end of three days of casual summitry in Washington and on Bush's central Texas ranch.

But they agreed on a range of other issues.

Bush said that he and Putin had pledged to reduce nuclear weapons, discussed cooperation in the war on terrorism and in stopping the spread of weapons, and considered ``ways our economies can grow together.''

Speaking to students at Crawford High School, Bush cited ``a new relationship ... that will make our lives better.''

Putin, speaking through a translator, called Bush, ``A person who does what he says.''

Bush had hoped to win an agreement from Putin to abandon or modify the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, which prohibits national missile defenses. Still, there had been little expectation that the meetings in Washington and on Bush's ranch would produce such a breakthrough.

``We shall continue our discussions,'' Putin said.

Russia had opposed any effort to dismantle the 1972 treaty, which it views as a centerpiece for world strategic stability.

Bush has characterized the pact as a relic of the Cold War and has said the United States will walk away from it, if necessary. The Pentagon hopes to begin construction on a command and testing center for the system next spring in Alaska.

Putin said he and Bush share a common goal to achieve security in the world and to protect against future threats. ``What we differ in is the ways and means we perceive that are suitable for reaching the same objective,'' Putin said.

While acknowledging the failure to agree on missile defense, Bush said, ``Our disagreements will not divide us as nations.''

The missile defense subject came up in response to a question from a student.

``You probably don't agree with your mother on every issue. You still love her, though, don't you?'' Bush asked.

``Well, even though we don't agree on every issue, I still respect him and like him as a person,'' Bush said of Putin.

After the question and answer session, Putin and his wife headed for New York City. Bush and Putin and their wives had a private breakfast Thursday morning. On Wednesday night, Bush treated the Russian president to a Texas-style barbecue on his 1,600-acre spread.

While Bush didn't get the deal on the ABM treaty he had sought, Putin also left without the agreement he wanted in writing on arms reductions, despite Bush's pledge to slash the U.S. arsenal to 1,700 to 2,200 from the current level of about 7,000.

Putin said Russia, which has about 6,000 warheads, would respond in kind. However, he had suggested the mutual reductions be incorporated into a treaty. Bush, who has voiced skepticism about such binding agreements, did not go along with that suggestion.

In Thursday's remarks at the high school, Bush talked about ``reducing and destroying'' the number of warheads.

But Putin offered a slightly different take on that, saying through an interpreter, ``What we do with those arsenals is subject to negotiations, with the result of those negotiations depending on the level of trust between the United States and Russia.''

Still, he said that ultimately, ``We will certainly arrive at a solution decision acceptable both to Russia, to the United States and, indeed, to the entire world.''

When asked by a student how warmer U.S.-Russian relations can improve Russia's troubled economy, Putin said it could help Russia gain normal trade with other nations in order to truly shed the vestiges of its socialist past.

``We have to get rid of the ideological barricades of the preceding decades,'' Putin said.

Bush said he wants an economic relationship with Russia that is based on ``a spirit of cooperation, not one-upmanship,'' and pledged: ``If there are ways that we can work together for our mutual interest, we will do so.''

Turning to the war in Afghanistan, Bush expressed pleasure with the freeing of eight aid workers who had been held by the Taliban _ two Americans, two Australians and four Germans.

He noted that release of the workers had been one of the conditions he had set on Afghanistan's Taliban regime. The others were to destroy terrorist camps and bring Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terror network to justice.

``One of those conditions has been met with the release and rescue of the humanitarian aid workers. And the other two will be met, particularly bringing al-Qaida to justice,'' Bush told his audience.

Calling Putin at one point by his first name, Bush said that the more he got to know the Russian leader, ``the more I get to see his heart and soul, the more I know we can work together in a positive way.''

He joked that he had invited Putin to come back in August, the season of dusty and searing heat here. Bush recounted Putin's wiseacre reply: ``Fine, and maybe you'd like to go to Siberia in the winter.''

Bush was asked by another student about the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan now that the militant Taliban regime is on the run.

Bush said he and Putin discussed at some length the need to establish an ethnically broad-based post-Taliban government.

``The Taliban is the most repressive, backward group of people we have seen on the face of the earth in a long time,'' particularly in their treatment of women, Bush said.

Asked by a young woman if women's rights in Afghanistan would improve with the fall of the Taliban, Bush noted that both he and Putin have teen-age daughters and share a ``keen desire to free the women of Afghanistan.''

Putin, in turn, agreed: ``Basically women in Afghanistan are not treated as people.'' He called for special programs _ primarily proper schooling _ to benefit Afghan women.