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Russia rebuffs Bush on ABM treaty

Bush and Robertson
Bush with NATO Secretary General George Robertson  

MOSCOW, Russia -- Kremlin officials have poured cold water on U.S. President George W. Bush's attempts during his European tour to foster a new period of détente.

Just three days before a Russian-U.S. summit, Kremlin officials insisted on Wednesday that Bush's missile defence plan posed a threat to global security and said other options should be considered.

Igor Sergeyev, an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Moscow was still determined to retain the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, which bans missile defence systems and which Bush described on Tuesday as a "cold war relic."

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As Bush met NATO leaders in Brussels to lobby against the ABM treaty, Sergeyev said Russia's position was "categorical and unchanged."

"That position is dictated by the best interests of trying to support strategic stability, international and national security and prevent a new arms race," Sergeyev was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying.

Foreign Ministry officials said Moscow saw a defence system based on nonstrategic missiles and open to all nations as the best option.

Speaking in Madrid on Tuesday, Bush said: "I look forward to meeting with Russian President (Vladimir) Putin to set out a new and constructive and realistic relationship between Russia and the United States.

"I'm looking forward to talking to President Putin, to assure him of our friendship and to offer him a strong normal relationship with America."

Bush added: "I look forward to making my case … about missile defence. It starts with explaining to Russia and our European friends and allies, that Russia is not the enemy of the United States ... that the attitude of mutually assured destruction is a relic of the cold war and that we must address the new threats of the 21st century if we are to have a peaceful continent and a peaceful world.

"Those new threats are terrorism based upon the capacity of some countries to develop weapons of mass destruction and therefore hold the United States and our friends hostage.

"It is so important we think differently in order to address those threats. I believe that people are interested in our opinion. I believe Mr. Putin is interested in our opinions." But Sergeyev said Russia was sceptical of "new" threats.

"We and others have not yet heard any sound reasons to support Washington's plan to deploy a national missile defence system," he said.

"From the technology of the Scud rocket, which these states possess, it's impossible to create an intercontinental missile capable of threatening the U.S."

A senior Russian Foreign Ministry official said Moscow was prepared to talk about a nonstrategic defence system, which would be open to all nations who felt threatened.

Such a system was also allowed by current treaties, he said.

"If there is a need for such a system, then this system should be open for all interested parties ... Only then will it be nondiscriminatory and not harmful to anyone's national interests," the official said.

The unchanged Russian position seemed to indicate that the first summit between the two leaders will lead to little movement on either side on the ABM question, a key issue on the agenda.

Officials on both sides have played down expectations for any breakthroughs at the meeting, which they paint as being more of a get-to-know-you encounter.

"I want to repeat that there will probably be no surprises," said another Russian Foreign Ministry official.

"One of the postulates of our foreign policy, and this includes the United States, is the absence of surprises. We have come to the understanding that the main thing in our relations is predictability," the official said.

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