OFFICIALS says U.S. will 'use right' to withdraw from ABM treaty if no agreement reached with Russia

Wednesday, August 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MOSCOW (AP) _ The United States hopes to reach an agreement on missile defense with Russia before a November summit, but is prepared to use its right to unilaterally withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty if necessary, a top U.S. official said in a Russian radio interview.

U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said Washington would prefer to come to a joint decision with Russia and that he hoped progress would be made before President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in November.

The interview was conducted with the Echo of Moscow radio station Tuesday and was to be broadcast Wednesday evening. A Russian translation was posted on the station's Web site, and an English-language transcript was made available to The Associated Press.

The Bush administration proposed that both countries jointly withdraw from the the ABM treaty, but the Russian government rejected that approach when it was presented by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in Moscow on Aug. 13.

Russia is opposed to dismantling the treaty, which it calls a cornerstone of international security and which prohibits national missile defense systems. But the United States says it will go ahead with building a missile defense system because of potential nuclear threats from countries such as North Korea and Iran.

``If, contrary to what our preference is, we're not able to reach agreement with Russia, then at some point in the not too distant future we would exercise our express right under the treaty to give notice of withdrawal,'' Bolton said. ``But withdrawal, of course, is not violating the treaty.''

The treaty allows each side to withdraw from it six months after notifying the other side of its intentions.

The question of withdrawing from the treaty is linked directly to the Pentagon's timetable for accelerating its testing of various missile defense technologies.

At some stage _ perhaps next spring or early summer _ the Pentagon hopes to begin construction of interceptor missile silos in Alaska.

Bolton was in Moscow this week as part of a series of consultations that began after Bush and Putin announced in July that missile defense would be linked to talks on cutting the nuclear arsenals of both countries.

The Russian delegation emphasized the need to make cuts in strategic weapons ``on the condition that the ABM treaty is preserved in its current form,'' according to a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Asked by the interviewer whether U.S. officials were aiming to make progress on the issue before a meeting between Bush and Putin tentatively planned for November, Bolton said that was the hope, but added that it could not be seen as a final deadline.

``I would imagine the presidents would be disappointed if by that time we have not achieved significant progress and they won't have anything to talk about at their meeting in Texas,'' he was quoted as saying.

He added: ``The real issue, I think, is the deepening of the political and economic conversations between the two governments, and that alone would be substantial progress. But we'll just have to see what happens by November.''

Russian officials repeatedly have complained that they lack concrete information on U.S. missile defense plans, but Bolton said Washington had presented a tremendous amount of information to the Russians about a Defense Department review of offensive weapons and about funding proposals to the U.S. Congress.

``We also have provided a very substantial amount of information about what our ballistic missile development program has already accomplished and what its plans are for the next year or 18 months, elaborating in very considerable details for our Russian counterparts the kinds of systems that we're exploring and the kinds of capabilities that we'll have,'' Bolton said.