U.S.-Russia relations have warmed so much since Sept. 11 that a resolution of the countries' most contentious dispute--over the U.S. plan to test and deploy a missile-defense system--now seems possible. President George Bush was already cracking the whip on American negotiators to clinch a deal. Now, with the U.S. ready to cut warhead levels to around 2,000 from 6,000-plus, the biggest battle may not be between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, but among Bush Administration factions.
Putin has recognized that a missile-defense system isn't a threat to Russia, U.S. officals say; he just needs a prestige-preserving agreement as weighty as the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which Bush wants to scrap. But Bush Administration hard-liners resist any formal treaty that would constrain U.S. power.
The treaty haters, headed by the Department of Defense and the Vice President's office, want to give Putin little more than a handshake. The treaty huggers, as the hawks have labeled them, are in Colin Powell's State Department and say a deal in writing can be so flexible as to bind hardly at all. The deciding vote will be Bush's.
--By Massimo Calabresi