The United States and Russia took the first step toward a joint defense system Tuesday by agreeing to establish a center that will provide early warning whenever a ballistic missile is fired worldwide.
Secretary of State James Baker and Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev made the announcement after meeting for more than two hours. Baker later returned to the United States after a 10-day tour to the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union.
The two top diplomats also agreed to accelerate negotiations toward a treaty to curb sharply their long-range nuclear arsenals, Kozyrev said.
They hope to do that by scrapping the large teams of negotiators who have toiled for years in search of an accord. In their place, Baker and Kozyrev said they would conduct negotiations themselves with a completion goal of July, when President Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin meet in Washington.
The United States and Russia want to reduce long-range nuclear warheads by more than the Americans and Soviets agreed to last year with the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
Bush has suggested a 50 percent cut, but Yeltsin has gone beyond that _ with a reduction of up to 75 percent.
Baker said American allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), as well as any other country willing to act "in a responsible way," could join the early warning system. It also would be open to the other former Soviet republics.
Neither diplomat specified the type of technology that would be employed in such a system.
A site for the center has not yet been determined.
In other related developments Tuesday:
President Bush and President Mircea Snegur of Moldova agreed to establish diplomatic relations and exchange ambassadors soon.
Bush met in the Oval Office with the leader of the former Soviet republic, which borders Romania and the Black Sea.
Georgy Matyukhin, chairman of the Russian Central Bank, said currency notes bearing Vladimir Lenin's profile would be withdrawn from circulation as they wear out and are replaced. The bank hasn't decided whose picture will be used instead.
_ Information from Cox News Service and the Associated Press was used in this report.