Briefing reporters traveling with him to a NATO ministers meeting in Iceland, where he would also be seeing Russia's foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, Secretary of State Colin Powell, looking ahead to his meeting with Ivanov, said, "We will not spend our time arguing about deployed warheads, but we might even have a drink or two."
The reference to warheads followed announcements in Washington and Moscow that negotiators had completed their work on a new arms control treaty, one which would cut the number of nuclear warheads each side retains to a level between 1700 and 2200. The three-page treaty is expected to be signed by presidents Bush and Putin in Moscow next week.
By the time Powell got to Reykjavik, another bump in Russia's relations with the West had been smoothed over. NATO and Russia agreed on the formation of a NATO-Russia Council, basically a forum which brings Russia closer to having an equal voice with NATO's 19 member states.
No, Russia is still not a NATO member and does not have a vote when NATO troops engage in military operations or when it votes to accept new members. Powell said "this is a step forward in bringing Russia closer to the West, and the West closer to Russia."
Now, after five years into an often contentious relationship, NATO and Russia have learned to live with each other, and they've found a mechanism — the NATO–Russia Council — which makes both comfortable enough and allows Russia to contribute to the discussion of such common problems as threat assessments for terrorism and proliferation issues, civil defense preparedness and measures to deal with possible use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
So in synch are U.S. and Russian views these days it almost doesn't matter which minister said which of the following statements when Powell and Ivanov spoke to reporters in Reykjavik.
"We're no longer enemies. The Cold War is over."
"The Cold War is over. That is a fact acknowledged by everyone."
For the record, the first belongs to Powell, the second to Ivanov.
Since the Bush administration has come to office, most of the differences between the two former adversaries have been resolved, though often after a long series of negotiations.
Only Tuesday, Russia and the U.S. agreed with other members of the U N Security Council to vote a new round of sanctions on Iraq. It took more than a year for the Bush view to prevail in Moscow, but the fact that the two were able to work out their differences is yet another signal that Presidents Bush and Putin see eye to eye more often than not on matters that affect world stability.
One noteworthy area of disagreement is Russia's continuing sale of advanced technology and technical expertise related to Iran's missile program and to the construction of a nuclear reactor. U.S. diplomats keep raising this issue but so far have not persuaded the Russians they have as much to fear from Iran's budding nuclear arms program as does the West.
Another concern is U.S. chicken exports to Russia. Yes, Moscow and Washington are in the midst of a trade standoff over chicken! Perhaps not as important as nuclear proliferation but this trade tiff is more indicative of the problems which beset the new U.S.-Russia relationship
"There are some trade issues that cause me more concern than I would have anticipated when I first came to this job," Powell said in Reykjavik. "Many years ago, when I used to come to NATO meetings as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I worried about strategic weapons going back and forth and right now we are in a poultry dispute with Russia. So I am more worried about chickens going back and forth than missiles going back and forth. This is good. It's much better to worry about these kinds of exchanges than the kinds of exchanges I used to worry about."
Given an opportunity to give a name to this new era of cooperation, Powell didn't take the bait offered by a reporter.
"No, we haven't looked for a new neon sign to put over the relationship….We don't yet have a cliché to capture this all, and I haven't spent a lot of time looking for one."
By Charles Wolfson