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Troop agreement caught him by surprise, Bush says

WASHINGTON - President Bush, hailing historic change in superpower relations, said Wednesday that Soviet acceptance of his troop cut proposal removed a major obstacle to a conventional arms treaty for Europe. Bush said he was caught by surprise at how quickly the troop agreement and a separate pact to speed German unification had fallen into place.

"We're dealing with historic change," Bush said. "I mean to be very elated about this."

Bush was criticized last year for his low-key public reaction to news that East Germany was opening the Berlin Wall.

The latest developments came Tuesday in Ottawa in talks between Secretary of State James Baker, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and other European foreign ministers.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who just last week called for parity with U.S. forces, agreed to a pullout that will leave both sides with 195,000 troops in Central Europe, but the U.S. will have an additional 30,000 troops in Britain, Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey.

"This is an important breakthrough which removes a major obstacle to the early conclusion of a CFE (Conventional Forces in Europe) treaty, and it also established the principle that U.S. forces in Europe are not to be treated as equivalent to Soviet forces in Eastern Europe," said Bush.

Preparing for other possible deals, notably on long-range nuclear weapons, Baker will meet Shevardnadze again in April in Washington to prepare for the June summit between Bush and Gorbachev.