Powell can't budge Putin on missile defense; no agreement on Russian warhead cuts

Monday, December 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MOSCOW (AP) _ Secretary of State Colin Powell failed to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday to ease Russian objections to American plans for a national missile defense.

Powell left Moscow unable to declare victories either on the long-simmering missile defense issue or on a firm commitment from Russia on reducing its nuclear weapon levels.

However, Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told a joint news conference they were close to an agreement on specific missile reductions by Russia.

Powell had hoped to get a specific number from the Russians on the extent of the nuclear warhead cuts they would make to match those offered last month by President Bush.

Bush, during Putin's visit to the United States in November, announced that the United States would reduce its nuclear arsenal to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads from the roughly 6,000 today.

Putin had earlier suggested Russia might go as low as 1,500, but said last month that Russia would generally match Bush's levels.

However, Ivanov told reporters that Russia was not ready to announce its final number _ and might not be until Bush visits Russia next summer.

Powell, however, said, ``We're very close. It's a matter of reporting it back to President Bush what I heard today.''

The two sides also remained at odds on whether the warhead reductions should be a treaty, as Russia wants, or a less formal document, as Bush wants.

``It could be a treaty or something else,'' Powell said without elaboration.

On the issue of U.S. plans to build a national missile defense shield, the two sides seemed no closer than before.

To go ahead with such a plan, the two sides would have to agree to modify the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which prohibits development of such defenses.

``The position of the sides remain unchanged,'' Ivanov told the news conference.

Furthermore, Ivanov said, Russia recognizes that its refusal to scrap the treaty might result in a U.S. withdrawal from the landmark arms control pact.

``We're not excluding the possibility of the United States withdrawing from the ABM treaty,'' he said. He hinted that Russia might do the same if that happened, saying that Russia's first priority is ``promoting our own national security.''

Ivanov reiterated the Russian position that ``this treaty is the key ... to strategic stability in the world.''

The Bush administration had hoped the treaty could be modified in time to allow it to begin constructing silos and a testing command center in Alaska next spring.

Under the treaty, either side can withdraw by giving six months' notice.

Powell met with both Putin and Ivanov, then joined Ivanov in answering reporters' questions.

Powell and Ivanov said they also discussed violence in the Middle East, the status of the war on terrorism and the rebuilding of Afghanistan, and the continuing conflict in Chechnya.

``I indicated there is continuing concern on the part of many Americans about atrocities that have been committed in the past,'' Powell said.

Ivanov said the Russians were willing to continue discussing the situation in Chechnya, but did not indicate any change in his country's position. Russian troops are battling rebels in the region.

Powell was on an eight-day visit to nations in Europe and central Asia. After a 24-hour stay in Moscow, he headed for Berlin, and plans to visit Paris and London Tuesday before heading home.

Terrorism clearly dominated the agenda for Powell's talks _ both the escalating violence in the Middle East and developments in Afghanistan in the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

Shortly after arriving in Moscow late Sunday, Powell placed flowers on a memorial at Pushkin Square on the site of an August 2000 terrorist bombing that killed 13 people. Speaking with reporters as he flew from Central Asia, Powell condemned the latest suicide bombing in Israel and raised fresh questions about the ability of Yasser Arafat to control Palestinian terrorist groups.

He said Arafat ``has available to him tens of thousands of security personnel with weapons,'' and should be able to do a better job at cracking down on extremists.