Rice Optimistic About Reaching Accord With Russia on Defense


After talks with a top Russian official in Moscow, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was upbeat Wednesday about the chances of a U.S. agreement with Russia on the Bush administration's plans for a missile shield.

With the U.S. and Russia poised for talks that could shape a new post-Cold War security framework, Rice expressed America's eagerness to press ahead and jettison the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, which bans deployment of a national missile shield.

"We have every possibility to have a cooperative way forward. And I think that is what the two presidents are committed to concentrating on over the next several months," she said, referring to President Bush and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir V. Putin.

Rice said the ABM treaty "prevents us from doing the research, development, testing and evaluation of the defensive systems that are so important in the new era."

In recent days, Putin and other top officials have reiterated Russia's view that the treaty must be preserved.

But Defense Minister Sergei B. Ivanov said Tuesday that Moscow might be prepared to consider modifications to the treaty if they would not harm Russian security interests.

Rice made her comments after meeting with the head of Russia's Security Council, Vladimir B. Rushailo, Wednesday evening. Charged with setting a rapid schedule for consultations on the issue, Rice is meeting today with Putin and Ivanov.

Her visit to Moscow came after talks between Putin and Bush during the Group of 8 summit in Genoa, Italy, where the two leaders agreed to link their talks about the missile defense shield to discussions of cutting strategic nuclear weapons.

Russian media and analysts have interpreted Putin's stance as showing willingness to give ground on the ABM treaty in return for deep cuts in nuclear missiles.

Putin is seen by many as having a weak negotiating position, being unable to prevent the U.S. from going ahead with a national missile shield. Some analysts believe that he wants Russia to be part of a solution to the disagreement rather than an impotent power, reduced to complaining about global issues it cannot influence.

However, Washington has made it clear that it does not want a lengthy negotiating process, with Bush insisting Monday that if the U.S. could not get a deal with Russia, it would push ahead with the missile shield plan anyway.

Appearing on ORT television, Rice skirted a question on what guarantee or treaty might replace the ABM pact. In recent days, Rice has said the U.S. does not see the need for a treaty regime to cover the missile shield issue.

Rice called for an end to the Cold War-era security framework, saying it was time for a new relationship between Russia and the U.S.

"The relationship that we had, the balance of terror that the Soviet Union and the U.S. had between them, came out of a relationship that was very hostile," she said.

"I think it is absolutely critical to replace the old basis of a threat to annihilate one another with a new basis of cooperative ways of insuring ourselves," she said.

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