November 22, 2002

US Sets Deadline for ABM Talks

The United States plans to withdraw unilaterally from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty if no compromise on its missile defense plans is reached with Russia by November, a US negotiator said yesterday.

US Under-Secretary of State John Bolton, who is wrapping up two days of arms talks in Moscow, said crucial decisions had to be made at a November summit between President George W. Bush and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

"I think the presidents will be disappointed if by then we fail to make significant progress, giving them nothing to discuss at their Texas meeting," Bolton told Ekho Moskvy radio in remarks dubbed into Russian.

Russia and the United States are racing against time to forge a compromise on Washington's plans to build missile defense, prohibited by ABM. Washington says if Moscow persists in its opposition to the project it will go ahead regardless.

Russia, faced with US determination to quit the treaty within months and short of cash to maintain its own nuclear arsenal, is trying to get Washington to agree to major nuclear missile cuts fixed in a formal international agreement.

The United States says it wants to reduce its arsenal unilaterally, without signing any formal documents with Moscow.

The most progress made so far was a vague agreement between Bush and Putin at a July summit in Italy to link the cuts to Moscow's position on ABM, though the two sides have since diverged on how tight the link should be.

Talks by arms experts, held in preparation for the Russian-US summit in Texas, have made no breakthrough and Bolton's remarks seemed to reflect frustration among the negotiators.

"The United States wants to find a common solution with Russia - either to jointly abandon the agreement or find a way to, also jointly, step beyond the restrictions and limitations imposed by it," Bolton told Ekho Moskvy.

"Otherwise... we will have to make use of our right, fixed in the treaty, to leave it," he said.

The treaty requires any side willing to abandon it to serve a six-month withdrawal notice.

In a stark warning to Moscow that it should soften its position or end up empty-handed, Washington on Tuesday announced that it had given the go-ahead to begin clearing ground this month for a missile defense testing site in Alaska.

Bolton said Russia had enough data from Washington on the missile defense plans to fashion its own position.

"We have provided detailed information on what has already been done in our ballistic missile programme and what is planned for the next 18 months," Bolton said.

"The Russian side has what it needs to study so as to better understand what the limited national missile defense stands for," he said.

Washington says it needs the system to protect its territory against strikes from the so-called "rogue states." Moscow dismisses any such threats in the near future.

Bolton said Washington favored a "gentlemen's agreement" on nuclear cuts with Russia rather than a binding treaty.

He said his visit was primarily aimed at preparing for a September meeting between US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

(China Daily 08/23/2001)

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