Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld leaves Saturday for Moscow and what officials say will be an intense day of meetings on missile defense. The United States is setting modest objectives for the talks with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.
A senior defense official tells reporters the Pentagon does not expect the brief visit to produce agreements or meet specific goals. The official, speaking on condition he not be identified, calls the trip part of the ongoing dialogue and consultation between the nations.
The two countries prepared for the session with two days of lower-level discussions at the Pentagon this past week. The Moscow talks are designed to lay groundwork for an October meeting between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The two men have already agreed to link missile defense to a new round of cuts in offensive nuclear weapons. But the countries are still at odds over the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, which bars both sides from developing such defenses. The Bush administration says it intends to withdraw from the pact eventually. The Russians say ABM should remain in force.
The senior defense official says the United States is not looking for ways to stretch the treaty, or to cut back on missile defense research and testing. He says the program cannot go forward within the constraints of the ABM accord. Washington hopes to persuade the Russians it would benefit both sides to move beyond the treaty.
The administration plan received a technological and political boost from a test flight last month. But the proposal also faces growing opposition from Democrats in Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle this week denounced missile defense as the most costly response to the least likely threat to US security. Democrats may try to slash spending for the program, or to block any tests that would breach the ABM treaty.