PUTIN says Russia rejects US proposal to withdraw from 1972 ABM treaty

Monday, August 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MOSCOW (AP)_ Russian President Vladimir Putin firmly rejected the Bush administration's push to jointly withdraw from a treaty banning national missile defenses but spoke hopefully Monday of agreeing to mutual cuts in nuclear weapons.

``You know our attitude toward the ABM treaty of 1972,'' Putin told reporters before meeting with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at the Kremlin. ``For us, it's unconditionally linked with both the Start II and Start I treaties. I would like to underline that.''

He was referring to nuclear arms treaties negotiated during the 1990s, the second of which has yet to be implemented. In Russia's view, abandoning the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty would mean the end of the nuclear arms treaties, and that in turn would undermine international security.

Putin said Russia is willing to negotiate nuclear force reductions as he and President Bush announced at their meeting in Italy last month. He said he was waiting for the United States to answer several critical questions on this, however, including the size of reductions, the timing and verification measures.

On the matter of Bush's missile defense plan, Putin said, ``We would like to get military and technical parameters of the proposals which have been formulated by your (Rumsfeld's) department.''

Later at a news conference with Rumsfeld, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov emphasized Russia's unwillingness to abandon the ABM treaty. ``We feel no compunction to leave one or any other treaty or accord which we currently have signed,'' he said.

Ivanov said that before a new set of negotiations could begin, both sides would have to reach an understanding on the parameters _ ``namely, the thresholds and limits, both on offensive and defensive systems.''

His reference to limits on defensive weapons was especially significant since the Bush administration wants to do away with treaty limitations on testing and deploying national missile defenses. It also is not clear that Bush is willing to enter into detailed negotiations on nuclear arms cuts.

Rumsfeld has said that if Russia and the United States could work out a more normalized relationship without the burden of Cold War-era suspicions, then treaties of arms limits would not be needed.

After a nearly two hour one-on-one meeting with Rumsfeld, Ivanov was asked by a reporter whether Rumsfeld persuaded him that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty had outlived its usefulness.

``I'm afraid not,'' he replied, speaking in English.

Then, speaking in Russian through a translator, he added, ``We still think the ABM treaty is one of the major important elements of the complex of international treaties.''

Over meals and in meetings, Rumsfeld is pressing Bush's campaign to win Russian acceptance of missile defense.

Rumsfeld, on his first visit to Moscow since taking office in January, started a 14-hour day of diplomacy Monday by fielding questions from Russian journalists. One asked him what minimum number of offensive nuclear weapons the Bush administration believed it needed to maintain.

Rumsfeld said he planned to recommend a specific number to Bush within a month or two. But first, he said, he needed more information about longer-term issues such as maintaining the reliability and safety of the existing nuclear stockpile and how long it might take to replace weapons that go bad.

Rumsfeld made clear, however, that Bush would make major reductions from the current level of about 7,200 weapons.

``We're going to do it regardless of what Russia does,'' he said.

The talks originally were to last two days, but Rumsfeld managed to condense them into a single day.

Although missile defense is a key issue on Rumsfeld's agenda in Moscow, he said the administration's main aim is to establish a new, broader relationship with Russia _ one that brings it closer to the Western community of democracies and farther from communist nations like North Korea and Cuba.

``For that country to be seen as an environment that is hospitable for investment by Russians and investment by everyone else in the world, we have to refashion the political and economic, as well as the security, relationship,'' Rumsfeld told reporters flying with him to Moscow.

He said it is unrealistic to expect Russia to retreat anytime soon from its position opposing a U.S. plan to deploy defenses against long-range missiles.

``It's a difficult road to travel,'' he said, referring to efforts to change the Russians' thinking.