MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin said Monday that Russia was willing to cut its nuclear arsenal from 6,000 warheads to under 1,500 as long as the process was "controlled" and the 1972 ABM treaty was preserved.
Speaking at a news conference alongside visiting French President Jacques Chirac, Putin also criticized the decision to deliver former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to the U.N. war crimes tribunal, saying he had doubts the move would bring stability to the Balkans.
Missile defense, nuclear proliferation and the tense situation in the Balkans have emerged as key topics so far during Chirac's three-day visit to Russia that began Sunday.
The two leaders issued a statement on international strategic issues on Monday in which both France and Russia affirmed support for maintaining the ABM treaty, which the United States has argued is outdated and stands in the way of President George W. Bush's proposals for a missile defense system.
"Russia welcomes the readiness of the United States to reduce strategic offensive weapons," Putin said. "Our concrete proposal is that we are ready for a further controlled reduction to 1,500 warheads and even less, but I want to stress controlled."
The United States currently has about 7,200 warheads deployed and is committed under the START II treaty to reducing to 3,500.
Putin also said any Russian reductions would be "closely linked to maintaining the ABM treaty." Russia believes abandoning the treaty would destroy the international security balance, a position supported by France.
"We attach great importance to our statement of strategic stability," Putin said.
A three-page joint statement said Russia and France see it as their task to ensure the strategic balance in the post-Cold War world. "The mechanism for that exist at the present time," the statement said, in a reference to the ABM treaty.
Although modifications to the ABM treaty concern specifically the United States and Russia, the statement says an international conference on nuclear proliferation would be useful. Russia and France believe destruction of the ABM treaty could lead to a new arms race.