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Missile Agreement With Russia Not Expected Quickly - 2001-07-27


Russia's foreign ministry says it heard no arguments from U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that would persuade it to agree to changes in the ABM treaty against defensive missiles. Ms. Rice left Moscow Thursday after discussions with Russian officials about U.S. plans to build a national missile defense system. Although the two countries are on more friendly terms than earlier this year, that does not mean an agreement will be easy.

Last weekend at the Genoa summit, Russian and U.S. officials agreed to link missile defense with arms reductions, but analysts say the real negotiations are only just beginning.

The U.S. would like to build a national missile defense system to protect itself from so-called rogue nations, such as North Korea and Iraq. But building such a system would require changes in or complete abandonment of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which bans defensive weapons systems.

Russia calls the treaty the cornerstone of international security and is opposed to changing it. The United States says the treaty is outdated and too restrictive.

While Ms. Rice was in Moscow the two countries set up a timetable for future talks, but no one expects the talks to be easy.

Within 24 hours of Ms. Rice's departure, a spokesman for the Russian ministry of foreign affairs, Alexander Yakovenko, was on Russian television saying Russia still believes the ABM treaty is indispensable.

Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military analyst, believes Russia may eventually agree to changes in the ABM treaty, but it is far too early to tell. "First of all, it turned out that the so-called deal reached just a few days ago in Genoa, between Presidents George Bush and Putin, was not really a deal at all," he says. "There is no deal and that the real wrangling is just beginning."

According to Mr. Felgenhauer, what Russia really wants is economic incentives. The military analyst says President Putin drove home that point during a meeting Thursday with Ms. Rice and U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill. "Putin was passing the message, as far as I could see it, that Russia wants to become a member of the World Trade organization, and by the end of the year and on Russia's terms," adds Mr. Felgenhauer.

Viktor Kremenyuk is the deputy head of the USA-Canada Institute which studies relations between Russia and North America. He says Condoleezza Rice brought a more conciliatory message than Washington has sent in the past. But for Mr. Kremenyuk, she was also sending the message that the United States will not wait forever for Russia to agree. "There will be an attempt on the Russian side to just drag it on and on. I wouldn't say endless negotiations, but negotiations without clear time limits," he said. "While the Americans know it and of course, they want in advance to say 'no, no, no. There must be clear time limits.'"

During her visit, Ms. Rice said that Washington is now just in the research and development stage of building a missile defense. However, she said there would come a time when the United States would have to violate the treaty in order to continue and it was prepared to do so.

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