MOSCOW (AP) _ Russia and the United States have come closer to ending their dispute over Washington's missile defense plans, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Monday, raising expectations for a breakthrough at next week's summit.
``There has been a certain progress and rapprochement'' in talks between Russian and U.S. officials on missile defense, Ivanov told reporters, according to the Interfax news agency.
He refused to elaborate, saying the issue will come up for a detailed discussion Nov. 13-15, when President Bush hosts Russian President Vladimir Putin in Washington and at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex.
Ivanov's comment was the strongest signal to date that Russia may agree to a compromise on the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, The United States wants to withdraw from the 1972 treaty, which bans nationwide missile defense shields of the kind the Bush administration wants to build.
In previous remarks on the subject, both Putin and Ivanov have insisted the ABM treaty is a ``cornerstone'' of strategic stability and should remain in place.
On Saturday, Ivanov held talks in Moscow with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and said that while Russia recognizes the United States' right to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to build the missile defense system, ``We believe it is better to do so when something new is already in place.''
Russia's support for the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan has bolstered relations after a long period of chill and raised expectations for an agreement on missile defense and drastic cuts in offensive nuclear arms.
A Foreign Ministry statement alluded to new, warmer relations following arms control talks in Moscow on Monday with U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton.
``Real preconditions have emerged for developing a principal vision of the framework of the future strategic relationship between our countries,'' the statement said.
However, referring to the ABM treaty, it said the two countries must ``carefully treat'' existing agreements in order to take advantage of ``new, major opportunities for radical nuclear weapons cuts.''
A senior White House official told The Associated Press earlier that an agreement providing arms cuts of about two-thirds of the arsenal was on the negotiating table, with each country limiting itself to no more than 1,750 to 2,250 warheads.