Moscow Alarmed By Suggested
Changes In US Nuclear Policy

(AP) - Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed alarm at suggested changes in U.S. nuclear policy, saying in an interview released Sunday that they could lower standards for use of nuclear weapons to "a dangerous level."
At the same time he was optimistic that President Bush's visit to Russia at the end of May would bring a "historical" agreement on nuclear weapons cuts.
Putin's remarks came about a month after the Pentagon's leaked "nuclear posture review" sparked indignant reactions in Russia. The document outlined the possible use of nuclear weapons against countries that possess or are developing weapons of mass destruction. It specifically named Russia as a potential target, along with six other countries.
"Here is why (this issue) cannot but worry us," Putin said in an interview with German and Russian media on the eve of his visit to Germany. "We are hearing some statements about the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons by the United States against non-nuclear states, among others. That's first.
"Second, we are hearing declarations and suggestions to develop low-capacity nuclear warheads and possibly use them in regional conflicts. This lowers the threshold for the possible use of nuclear weapons to a very low plank, to a dangerous level."
But Putin said it was too early to speak of a new nuclear strategy in Washington.
"These are only the individual statements of people who are not the highest officials of the United States," he said in the interview, which was conducted Thursday and posted on the Kremlin Web site on Sunday.
Putin said that Bush's visit to Moscow and St. Petersburg on May 23-26 would bring "historical" results in the form of a new agreement on weapons cuts.
Bush has promised to cut the U.S. arsenal to 1,700 to 2,200 strategic nuclear warheads, while President Vladimir Putin has said Russia could go as low as 1,500. Both countries are allowed 6,000 under the existing START I treaty.
Bush favored a verbal agreement over a formal treaty, but Washington later consented to Moscow's demands to put the cuts in writing.
"I see this as a very important document that could become the basis for the future strategic stability of the world," Putin said.
Another point of contention in the talks has been Washington's plans to store decommissioned nuclear warheads rather than destroying them. Moscow recently softened its stance on this issue, saying it might also store some warheads.
Relations between Russia and the United States warmed significantly after Sept. 11, and Moscow has become a committed partner in the anti-terrorism campaign.
But Putin warned Washington against acting alone against Iraq or other countries it deems terrorist threats, saying unilateral actions would be "counterproductive." He called for a joint effort "to convince Iraq to accept the return" of United Nations weapons inspectors.
Russia is Iraq's biggest trade partner and ally on the U.N. Security Council. Washington's desire to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been put on hold because of the war between Israel and the Palestinians.

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