Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov’s official visit to Washington last week was significant on at least two levels. First of all, for the efforts on both sides to cultivate the budding friendship between the two countries. Ivanov, for example, had on the eve of his departure for Washington hinted that the arms talks between Moscow and Washington were in trouble, attacking in particular the U.S. administration’s plans to store rather than destroy the nuclear warheads slated for reduction. Yet his tone changed significantly upon arriving in the American capital and meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The two defense chiefs were upbeat about their talks, with both predicting that Washington and Moscow would reach a new arms reduction agreement and Ivanov saying that the pact could even finalized in time for the summit between Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush, set to take place in Russia in May.

And while the remarks of Rumsfeld and Ivanov were short on specifics, the Russian defense minister appeared to soften on the issue of warhead storage, telling NBC News’ Tim Russert that the issue was negotiable and that he did not rule out that some of the warheads “may be stored.” And asked about the Nuclear Posture Review that recently leaked from the Pentagon–which said, among other things, that Russia’s future direction “cannot be charted with certainty” and that the United States may thus need to revise its nuclear force levels and posture if its relations with Russia “significantly worsen in the future”–Ivanov’s response further underscored the premium the Kremlin now puts on its relations with Washington. The Russian foreign minister diplomatically dodged the question.