The Bush administration says it has not set a November deadline for resolving differences with Moscow over the future of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. But it also says there will come a point, in a matter of months, when Moscow will either have to accept changes in the 1972 agreement, or the United States will withdraw from it.
The administration's chief arms control expert, Undersecretary of State John Bolton, told reporters in Moscow the United States is aiming for progress on the anti-missile issue before Presidents Bush and Putin meet in Texas in November.
But officials here say the comment, in a Russian radio interview, was not aimed making the summit a deadline for Moscow to accept changes in the ABM treaty to accommodate U.S. missile defense plans.
Briefing reporters, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker says the administration is trying to work with Russia on ways to set aside the restrictions of an outdated treaty, though it also reserves the right to withdraw from the accord if modifications cannot be agreed upon.
"We wish to find ways to jointly, with the Russians, move beyond the ABM treaty, which we believe is a relic of a bygone age," Mr. Reeker said. "We're simultaneously moving ahead with our missile defense program, which will of course bump up against the ABM treaty in some months, not years, as we've said. But we've set no deadline for withdrawal from the ABM treaty and Undersecretary Bolton's comments, if read correctly, make that quite clear."
The Russian government says it considers the 1972 treaty the foundation for subsequent arms-control agreements with the United States. It rejected an overture by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld earlier this month that the two countries jointly withdraw from it.
Spokesman Reeker reiterated here that the Bush administration has no intention of violating the accord, seemingly leaving open only the options of re-writing the treaty or unilateral U.S. withdrawal, if the administration proceeds to build its defense system.
The Bush White House says a limited anti-missile program is needed to protect the United States from accidental launches or weapons fired by so-called rogue nations.
In return for Moscow's agreement to shelve or amend the treaty, the administration has proposed deep cuts in the two countries' offensive nuclear arsenals going well beyond the reductions of the START-II treaty signed in 1993.
Mr. Bolton's Moscow talks ended Wednesday, though the dialogue will continue next month when Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov visits Washington to meet Secretary of State Colin Powell and other senior officials.