The United States and Russia must unite to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction rather than drifting into a new Cold War, the authors of a project to secure the former Soviet nuclear arsenal said on Monday.
While acknowledging that Moscow and Washington disagree over missile defense, human rights, democracy and how to handle the Serb province of Kosovo, U.S. Senator Richard Lugar said the two nations had too much at stake to allow the relationship to sour.
"The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is the number one national security threat facing our countries and the international community," Lugar, who is the Republican leader on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told a reception here.
"The U.S. and Russia should be sending the clear message that we are ready to go anywhere and undertake any conversation in the pursuit of preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," he added.
In 1991, the year the Soviet Union collapsed, Lugar forged a bipartisan partnership with then Democrat senator Sam Nunn to help Russia and former Soviet nations secure and destroy huge stocks of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Almost 7,000 nuclear warheads have been deactivated to date.
Lugar said Russia and the United States should use the experience gained during that program to help North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons, if current six-nation talks about disarming Pyongyang succeed.
Nunn urged the U.S. government to seriously consider President Vladimir Putin's offer earlier this year to share information from a Russian-run radar station in Azerbaijan to help combat potential hostile missile attacks.
Both men said that much remained to be done to reduce still further the danger of accidental war between U.S. and Russian nuclear forces and to stop other nations or terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons technology.
"The world is in a race between cooperation and catastrophe," Nunn said. "It's a race we must run together with others and which we must win."
Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited.