Official says U.S. will ‘use right’ to withdraw from ABM treaty if no agreement reached with Russia
MOSCOW (AP) – The United States is prepared to withdraw unilaterally from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty so it can go ahead with missile defense plans if no agreement is reached with Russia on the accord, a senior U.S. diplomat visiting Moscow said Wednesday.
U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton said he hoped progress toward an agreement would be made before President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in November.
”We remain hopeful that we can talk to the Russians,” Bolton said. ”If contrary to our hopes and expectations we’re not able to move together jointly, we will exercise the express right provided by the ABM treaty to give notice of our withdrawal.”
But he said November was not a deadline for an agreement.
Russia is opposed to dismantling the 1972 treaty, which prohibits national missile defense systems. But the United States says it will go ahead with building a missile defense system because of potential nuclear threats from countries such as North Korea and Iran.
The Bush administration has sought to avoid Cold War-style arms control negotiations and proposed that both countries jointly withdraw from the ABM treaty. But the Russian government rejected that approach when it was presented by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in Moscow last week.
”The best way to handle this is mutually moving beyond the treaty together. The (Russians) have not yet agreed to that. We haven’t given up on it,” Bolton said.
Bolton said the United States would prefer a joint declaration on the accord but would consider a new treaty. ”Certainly another treaty is a possibility,” he said.
Bolton said the United States was determined not to violate the treaty and therefore that could mean unilaterally withdrawing from the accord – long a cornerstone of international security and still considered so by the Russians and many Europeans.
The ABM treaty allows each side to withdraw from it six months after notifying the other side of its intentions. At some stage – perhaps next spring or early summer – the Pentagon hopes to begin construction of interceptor missile silos at Fort Greely, Alaska.
In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley acknowledged that the Pentagon’s missile defense activities planned for 2002 include some that may violate the treaty. But the administration has not decided if it will avoid the violations by withdrawing from the treaty or by altering or delaying the banned activities, he said.
Washington hoped to avoid that choice by reaching an agreement with Moscow to set aside the treaty and create a new security framework under which both sides could pursue missile defenses, he said.
Last week, the Department of Defense awarded a contract worth nearly $5 million to local firm to clear trees, build an access road, drill wells and conduct other work to prepare Fort Greely to become a missile defense test site.
”Make no mistake about it: The ongoing work of the ballistic missile defense organization will bring us into conflict with the treaty within months, not years,” Bolton said at a news conference after two days of formal talks with Russian officials.
Bolton was in Moscow this week as part of consultations that began after Bush and Putin announced in July that missile defense would be linked to talks on cutting nuclear arsenals.
He said some Russians expressed security concerns similar to those of the United States about the possibility of nuclear arsenals being held by rogue states.
”Some of them said they actually thought that Russia might be at greater risk from some of them than the United States,” he said, pointing to Russia’s proximity to Iran. ”I don’t see the disagreement between the U.S. and Russia on threat assessment to be that great anymore.”
The Russian delegation emphasized the need to make cuts in strategic weapons ”on the condition that the ABM treaty is preserved in its current form,” according to a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry Wednesday.
Russian officials repeatedly have complained that they lack concrete information on U.S. missile defense plans, but Bolton said Washington had presented an enormous amount of information about a Defense Department review of offensive weapons and funding proposals to the U.S. Congress.
”I’d say we’ve made good progress and covered many issues,” he said of the talks, which included discussions about offensive and defensive weapons, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and export controls.
He said both sides had agreed to set up a mechanism for more regular bilateral consultations and had agreed to an extra meeting before a Sept. 19 meeting in New York between U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.
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