(Background briefing en route from Astana, Kazakhstan to Moscow, Russia.)
Senior Defense Official: We are going into Moscow and Secretary Rumsfeld will be meeting with his counterpart, Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov.
I think it's important to understand the context of the meeting. There have been a long series of meetings beginning back in the fall in which a broad range of issues have been discussed. I expect this meeting will also touch on a broad range of issues.
But what's somewhat different is that it's also -- we're in the run up now to the summit that will be coming with Russia at the middle to end of May. So there will be issues I think that will be discussed as part of the ongoing consultations between the ministers of defense. In particular, I am certain that the secretary will want to talk a little bit about Afghanistan, a little bit about his trip to Central Asia, and those sorts of issues. But we will also talking about strategic arms issues and in particular, continuing the work that has been going on in both the defense channel and in the State Department channel on crafting a legally binding strategic arms agreement that might be ready for the presidents to sign in May.
Q: Is that still a real possibility or has it become pretty clear that it is not going to be ready by May? I get the impression that -- don't expect it now.
Senior Defense Official: I don't think that. I think it is still a possibility. But I think that in some senses, both sides are pretty relaxed about the fact that we are taking the reductions. We've started the reductions; they're continuing their reductions, and whether or not we have the details worked out in this agreement, in this timeframe, is not necessarily going to be a make or break issue for the summit.
Q: Will Under Secretary Bolton and the SecDef carry any new proposals in? You know, propose any changes or --
Senior Defense Official: I think at this point they're going to be exploring different alternatives for how to -- maybe they will be looking at the language of such an agreement, exploring different alternative formulations that might meet both their needs and our needs. So I wouldn't necessarily say "new proposals," but I think there is certainly going to be a lot of give and take.
Q: Is it the intention of the Pentagon to store some the weapons that are going to be discarded? Is that still a major sticking point for the Russians?
Senior Defense Official: I think that the Russians understand that that's a factor of what we're going to do and in fact, that's sort of a fact. It's a fact of life given the fact that...
Sometimes we've said, some of the warheads we are going be destroying; some of the warheads we're going to be keeping, but given the state of our own nuclear complex right now, it's going to take a long time before we're even in a position to be able to begin to destroy some of those warheads. I think the Russians understand that. They also understand that they've got a lot of weapons in storage as well. So I wouldn't regard that as a major sticking point at this point.
Q: Could you remind us what is the pressure behind it, why the need? If you have, let's say, 2,000 warheads, why do you need to keep more?
Senior Defense Official: What the Nuclear Posture Review stated was that the United States needed the ability to respond to changes in the security environment that might be unforeseen. This is particularly true given the fact that under present circumstances, our nuclear weapons complex is not in a position to respond well to those changes by producing new weapons or producing new warheads that might go on existing systems. So we felt that it was prudent to hang onto a portion of those systems and give us the flexibility to respond to those changes, if necessary, as we draw down the operationally deployed force. It has really been the focus of arms control for the last 20 or 30 years -- those weapons that are actually on top of existing missiles and that are available for use on bomber weapons or in bomber forces.
Q: None of the previous arms control agreements actually required the destruction of warheads, did they?
Senior Defense Official: No.
Q: Did any of them?
Senior Defense Official: No.
Q: What is the point of having these talks and coming up with some sort of formal agreement when we've made it clear that we're just going to do whatever we want to do regardless of what the Russians claim -- that we need a deal?
Senior Defense Official: I think that the Russians in particular feel that it is important to have something, a legally binding agreement that will go beyond the lives -- not the lives but the terms -- of the two presidents. So what we're trying to is to work with them and fashion an arrangement that satisfies that requirement but at the same time provides the flexibility that we think is necessary in the uncertain security environment we are in today.
Q: So isn't this is really just a public relations effort to help Putin back home? Is that really what this is all about?
Senior Defense Official: I wouldn't call it a public relations effort. I think one of the things the president believes is that President Putin has made a sort of strategic decision to move toward the West, and that it's important that we attempt to sort of reinforce that in ways that strengthen him, and this is one of a number of elements.
Again, I don't want to blow arms control out of proportion in terms of the importance in our relationship, but a lot of other factors -- economic factors and things that are very important, military cooperation in the war on terrorism -- that I think are equally, if not more important in this. This is one of a number of factors that we think would help support his move and continued movement toward the West.