Putin, Berger Renew Old Friendship

President Vladimir Putin gave U.S. National Security Adviser Samuel Berger a warm welcome to the Kremlin on Thursday and the two managed to steer their round of talks away from thorny issues.

Putin told Berger he remembered the "warm, friendly, personal and business relations" the two established when he was still secretary of the Kremlin's Security Council.

"[Then] we quickly established a good working relationship and gave a good impetus to cooperation between Russia and the United States," Putin told Berger as they sat around a large oval table in an ornately decorated, gold and pale green room.

Berger, who passed on U.S. President Bill Clinton's best wishes, joked that Putin had provided "a model for all national security advisers."

He said Clinton was looking forward to his visit to Moscow set for next month. Sergei Ivanov, a Putin ally who replaced him as secretary of the Security Council last year, told reporters after the talks, described as "successful," that Clinton's visit would now take place on June 2-5. It had previously been set for June 4-5.

Ivanov said the two had also discussed the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which Washington and Moscow have been at loggerheads over since the UnitedStates signaled its hope to deploy a new missile defense system.

The government has opposed changes to the treaty, but Putin hinted at a possible compromise during a visit to London last month. It is not clear what form the compromise will take, although it looks as though it may hinge on what is defined as a legitimate defense system against missile strikes by so-called rogue states such as Iraq and North Korea

"Both sides consider the ABM treaty the cornerstone of strategic stability. This theme will be discussed in more detail during Clinton's visit to Moscow," Ivanov said. Ivanov also said the discussions on the ABM treaty could open the way for a new round of talks on the START III nuclear arms reduction treaty, which would further cut arsenals.

The U.S. administration wants to cut back the number of warheads to 2,000 to 2,500 each. Putin has said the country, faced with scarce funds, was ready to go even lower, to 1,500 each.

The two avoided another collision over the recent visit to Moscow by Yugoslav Defense Minister Dragoljub Ojdanic, who was indicted in May 1999 for war crimes in Kosovo.

Washington has criticized Moscow for not arresting the minister during the secret but official five-day visit last week. Military sources were quoted as saying Wednesday that Moscow did not recognize his indictment.

"[In the talks] there was nothing about Yugoslavia," Ivanov said. "The talks were successful, especially as Putin knows Berger very well."