Rumsfeld sees U.S.-Russian relations improving despite pullout from ABM treaty

Monday, December 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday the relationship between the United States and Russia continues to improve despite President Bush's announcement he is pulling out of an anti-missile defense treaty.

Rumsfeld said leaders of the two countries nevertheless will have to talk about ``the importance of transparency and predictability, which both countries recognize ... as important for our respective populations to feel comfortable as we make that dramatic change.''

Rumsfeld was to confer Monday with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov before a NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels.

Russia has said it was disappointed by Bush's announcement last week that the United States will pull out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. But President Vladimir Putin also said the move does not threaten Russia.

Bush announced the decision to pull out of the treaty because he wants to develop a national missile defense system.

Bush tried to strike a deal with Putin to allow the United States to expand testing for such a system. But Russia, which can't afford a national missile defense, has said it views the ABM pact as the basis of all nuclear-reduction treaties.

Rumsfeld has robustly defended the decision. He told the leaders of former Soviet republics he visited over the weekend that the U.S. decision would not create an arms race but help stabilize the world.

Secretary of State Colin Powell also said Sunday that good relations with Russia will continue despite the ABM pullout decision.

Russia and the United States have announced plans to cut their nuclear warhead stockpiles significantly. The United States says it will reduce its number of warheads to 2,000 or fewer from the current 6,000. Russia has made a similar pledge.

Rumsfeld said he would explain the basis of the president's decision to Ivanov, and that he also expected the two to discuss terrorism.

Russia has worked closely with the United States on fighting terrorism since the Sept. 11 attacks, and Putin has made clear he expects that close relationship to continue.

Over the weekend, the defense secretary visited American troops inside Afghanistan, and with Hamid Karzai, prime minister of the country's new interim government.

Rebuilding Afghanistan into a stable nation won't be easy, Rumsfeld said on the trip, the first by a top U.S. official to the country newly freed from the rule of the Taliban. But the United States wants ``to be as helpful as we can.''

Rumsfeld told U.S troops their task is to ensure terrorists face punishment for the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

There's no way to know how long it will take to finish the job and find Osama bin Laden, he said.

In Kabul, meanwhile, the U.S. flag was raised over the American Embassy Monday, making the reopening of the post that was abandoned almost 13 years ago. ``We are here, and we are here to say,'' said special envoy James F. Dobbins.

At Bagram airfield near Kabul on Sunday, Karzai told Rumsfeld the U.S. military had boosted an opposition incapacitated by years of war.

``The way you provided help for us was the opportunity that we wanted,'' Karzai said.

An international security force of between 3,000 and 5,000 troops from various countries will enter the Afghan capital of Kabul sometime after Saturday, the day Karzai takes office, Rumsfeld said.

The United States will provide support, including intelligence, airlift support and a rapid reaction force in case of trouble. There are ``rumblings'' that a similar security force for one or two other Afghan cities is under consideration, he said.