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Putin and Clinton discuss nuclear arms cuts
BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei -- A further reduction in nuclear arms has been a key focus in possibly the last face-to-face discussion between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Their meeting on Wednesday morning at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Brunei turned to arms control after Putin's recent statement that he was prepared to talk more about cutting warhead stockpiles to 1,500 on each side.
The two leaders also discussed Korea, the Middle East and the detention of Edmond Pope -- the U.S. citizen on trial in Russia on spying charges -- in their 75-minute meeting.
Washington has long called on Moscow to release Pope, a former naval intelligence officer turned businessman, who was arrested in April on charges of obtaining classified weapons information.
Washington says it has seen no evidence against Pope, who has had a rare form of bone cancer, and has urged his release on humanitarian grounds.
"We are concerned about the course of the trial and the president again urged release of Mr. Pope on humanitarian grounds as soon as possible," a senior U.S. official told reporters after the meeting.
Defence shield 'flexibility'
The two leaders returned to directly discussing nuclear arms control after Putin recently hinted that there was some flexibility over America's ambition for a National Missile Defence (NMD) shield.
"We're clearly interested in President Putin's statement," the U.S. official said.
Clinton earlier this year postponed a decision on whether to build the NMD system which Russia says would undermine a 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) pact and spark a new arms race.
On Monday, however, Russia's nuclear missile chief significantly shifted Moscow away from outright rejection of the U.S. plan by offering a new arms control proposal ahead of leadership changes in the White House.
Yakovlev proposed "to introduce an unchanging general indicator of strategic weapons which would include anti-missile defence means as well as means of nuclear attack," Interfax news agency said.
"A country that wishes to increase one of the components will have to cut the other," Yakovlev said.
Putin said Russia wanted to retain and strengthen the ABM treaty, but was also prepared to talk more and cut nuclear warheads to a previously offered 1,500 on each side.
The U.S. official said Clinton also raised the United States' long-standing concerns about Russian weapons exports to Iran, but did not say whether Putin had offered any fresh assurances on the issue.
The meeting was the fourth between the two leaders this year and is likely to be the last before Clinton steps down on January 20.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Clinton sets off on historic trip to Asia
APEC 2000 Brunei Darussalam
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