U.S. and Russian defense officials say progress made on security issues

Saturday, November 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MOSCOW (AP) _ Top U.S. and Russian defense officials indicated progress Saturday in one area of their talks on arms control _ weapons reductions _ but signaled no breakthrough on U.S. plans to build a new missile shield.

With 10 days to go before a key U.S.-Russian presidential summit, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met in Moscow with his counterpart Sergei Ivanov and also conferred with President Vladimir Putin.

Although a deal on the missile issue appears unlikely, the two ministers stressed the points they have in common and tried to gloss over lingering differences.

``Neither Russia nor the United States wants to put too much emphasis on the contradictions between them, and are trying to work where there is agreement,'' Ivanov told reporters in the Kremlin.

The two countries have grown closer since the Sept. 11 terror attacks, improving the likelihood of at least some success at the Nov. 13-15 summit, to be held in Washington and at Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex.

U.S. officials have suggested good chances for a deal on arms reduction. But the two sides appear to remain far apart on the other major issue: the U.S. desire to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

``The United States wants to move beyond the ABM treaty and establish a new framework for the 21st century,'' Rumsfeld said. ``We had good discussions as to how we go about doing that.''

Russia opposes the U.S. missile shield plans as a threat to strategic stability. The 1972 treaty bans nationwide missile defenses on the premise that neither country would strike first without risking retaliation _ the principle of mutual assured destruction that was a foundation of Cold War strategy.

However, Russian officials recently have softened their statements, suggesting new flexibility.

``Russia and the United States both understand that we should look into the future together,'' Ivanov said.

While Russia recognizes the United States' right to drop out of the agreement, he said, ``we believe it is better to do so when something new is already in place.''

He also indicated the two sides spent a good portion of their discussions on strategic weapons cuts, including provisions for ``an absolutely clear and transparent verification regime.''

``Today's talks with Putin and Rumsfeld showed we have ... good prospects here to move forward quickly,'' Ivanov said.

Neither he nor Rumsfeld offered any specifics. However, 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.

Rumsfeld expressed U.S. gratitude for Russia's ``fine cooperation'' in the anti-terrorism campaign following the Sept. 11 attacks. Ivanov said that he and Rumsfeld had discussed additional, ``concrete forms of assistance.''

``As for improvement in cooperation, we have certain resources here that we can use ... but since they relate to our special services you will understand that I cannot tell you more about that,'' Ivanov said.

Russia has opened its airspace for humanitarian flights, shared intelligence and worked its diplomatic channels to advance the anti-terrorism campaign.

The Kremlin also has not stood in the way of former Soviet republics that wish to cooperate in the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan.

Later Saturday, Rumsfeld traveled to Tajikistan, where he met President Emomali Rakhmonov and senior officials. He then flew to Uzbekistan, which has provided a base for an estimated 1,000 U.S. soldiers. There have been Russian media reports that Washington wants to persuade Uzbekistan to provide more bases.

Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan, backs the U.S. operation but the impoverished republic has so far been reluctant to play host to U.S. troops.