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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin, Bush Sign START II

Framed by the elaborate gold-leaf arches of the Kremlin's St. Vladimir Hall, Presidents George Bush and Boris Yeltsin on Sunday signed a sweeping Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that they said marked a turning point in history.

"For half of this century the United States and Soviet Union have been locked in a standoff", the U. S. president said.

"Cold War, hot words and a constant threat of war" seemed then to be inevitable, he said. But as a result of the new treaty, he added, "We stand today at the threshold of a new era of hope".

Yeltsin, who began the ceremony looking grim but appeared to warm up as it continued, used hyperbole to match -- and referred to Bush as "George".

"In scale and importance this treaty goes further than all other disarmament agreements ever signed", Yeltsin said.

"In all previous periods of history, man was arming himself. This treaty for the first time realizes mankind's centuries-old dream of disarmament".

START II would, if ratified and implemented, cut the strategic nuclear arsenals of both superpowers by two-thirds.

It would entirely eliminate two of the most powerful and destabilizing classes of weapons, and leave each side with a ceiling of 3, 000-3, 500 nuclear warheads in its aggregate arsenal, returning stockpiles to the levels of the 1960s and '70s.

The final stages of the agreement, which was first outlined last June, were completed at lightning speed, showing the anxiety of both presidents to sign quickly.

To Bush, START II offered a perfect footnote for his presidency and a historic fifth major arms control agreement to round off his foreign policy record. On Jan. 20 he will hand over the White House to President-elect Bill Clinton.

Yeltsin, who pushed even harder over the past month to have the agreement signed, appears to hope it will help to regain him some of the political initiative he lost to conservative opponents during the gruelling December session of the Congress of People's Deputies.

Anticipating conservative criticism that the treaty favors the U. S. side, Yeltsin insisted that it would "not weaken but strengthen the security of Russia". He also expressed confidence that the Russian parliament would ratify the document.

"Some of the deputies are against the treaty, but they are against everything positive that needs to happen in Russia", Yeltsin told a press conference after signing the pact. He said that a majority would nevertheless vote for the agreement and that he was "certain" it would be ratified.

The treaty brought swift praise from Western Europe, where Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany and Prime Minister John Major of Britain stressed its historic scope. NATO Secretary Manfred Woerner also welcomed START II, and expressed hope that it would be ratified and implemented quickly.

Yeltsin said that he had obtained Clinton's support for signing the treaty ahead of time, and that he had proposed a Russian-U. S. summit meeting as soon as possible after the new president takes office.

Though by the standards of a superpower summit their 24-hour agenda was slim, Bush and Yeltsin said they had discussed the general political situation in Russia and the fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Yeltsin caused his new prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, visible discomfort when he announced that he had assured Bush that there was "no new government" in Russia, and that the old one was continuing with its former policies under Chernomyrdin.

Questioned afterwards by reporters, Chernomyrdin supported the treaty and agreed that reform policies would continue. But the prime minister evaded comment on Yeltsin's remark that his was not a new government. Bush said there had been no differences between the U. S. and Russian positions during their talks on the war in the former Yugoslavia.

Before the ceremony, Yeltsin took Bush -- the first U. S. leader to visit post-Communist Russia -- on a tour of the Kremlin, where they paid a surprise visit to a children's Christmas party.

As soon as the press conference ended. Bush left for Sheremetyevo Airport, where he took off, only 24 hours after arriving in Moscow, for a meeting in Paris to discuss the war in Bosnia with President Francois Mitterrand.

Arriving on Saturday, Bush had flown here directly from a visit to the American troops he has deployed to protect humanitarian relief efforts in Somalia. The 68-year-old president walked bareheaded into a clear but bitterly cold Moscow afternoon to meet Yeltsin on the airport asphalt.

Barbara Bush and White House Chief of Staff James Baker arrived in a separate aircraft from Washington, while a third plane brought Secretar of State Lawrence Eagleburger. It was Eagleburger who had ironed out final differences over the treaty with his Russian counterpart, Andrei Kozyrev.