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Progress Reported in US-Russia ABM Dispute - 2001-11-05

Russian media quoting Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Monday there has been progress on bringing the Russia and the United States closer together on the issue of amending the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) treaty.

Monday's statement by Mr. Ivanov, reported by the Interfax news agency, suggests Russia may be willing to negotiate on a U.S. plan to withdraw from the ABM treaty, something Russia has opposed in the past.

The United States regards the 1972 ABM treaty as a relic of the Cold war. Washington would like to build a national missile defense system to protect itself against nuclear attack by so-called rogue states such as Iraq. But Russia says the system the United States is proposing would violate the ABM treaty, which bans defensive weapons systems. In the past, Russia has called the ABM treaty the cornerstone of nuclear arms control and said it would like to leave it intact. But in recent weeks top Russian officials have been indicating that they may agree to some changes to accommodate American plans for a defense shield.

The Russian defense minister did not elaborate on exactly what type of progress has been made but, according to the Russian media, said the issue would be discussed in detail before a scheduled meeting between Presidents Vladimir Putin and George Bush in the United States next week. The missile shield and the proposed changes to the ABM treaty are expected to top the agenda along with the war against terrorism.

A senior U.S. official, John Bolton, was in Moscow Monday for talks with Russian officials about the upcoming summit and arms-control matters. In a statement issued after the meeting, the Russian Foreign ministry said a meeting between Presidents Putin and Bush in Shanghai had prepared the foundation for what they described as "working out a new relationship between the two countries."

The relationship between the Russia and the United States has improved significantly following the terrorist attacks of September 11. In the weeks since then, Russia has pledged its support to the United States in its war against terrorism.