- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2001

America's largest European ally yesterday signaled that President Bush's plans to build a missile-defense system will not lead to a clash between the United States and Europe.
Despite widespread predictions of a rift over U.S. plans to test and deploy a missile shield, "I don't think missile defense will be or deserves to be a divisive issue in the trans-Atlantic relationship," newly appointed German Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger said in an interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.
The latest conciliatory words came as National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and senior Russian defense officials in Moscow and set a timetable to try to resolve the missile-defense dispute in the next three months.
Despite public criticisms from leading congressional Democrats that the missile-defense program would put the United States in direct conflict with its leading allies and Russia, Mr. Bush has been able to engage Moscow on the issue while easing skepticism in Europe.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has spoken warmly of the idea, and a number of European leaders now say they are reserving judgment until they learn more of the American plan.
With Europe's largest economy and an increasingly assertive foreign policy, Germany has emerged as a key player in the debate over the future of European security.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, while reserving judgment on whether he would support the still-sketchy American defense shield, said recently that he hoped German firms would be able to participate in the contracts for such a system if the United States were to proceed.
Mr. Ischinger, noting that his country has pledged never to develop a nuclear arsenal of its own, said that "by sheer logic" it followed that Germany would be interested in defensive systems that protect its territory from the missiles of other nations.
"It is simply wrong to say that Germany is opposed as a matter of principle to missile defense," said Mr. Ischinger, who was most recently state secretary of the German Foreign Office in Berlin.
But the diplomat added that Germany remained strongly "against anything which could lead to a new arms race."
Russia has balked at changes to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which blocks development of the expansive missile defense system that Mr. Bush wants. But Mr. Putin in his meeting with Mr. Bush in Genoa, Italy, last week agreed to top-level talks on the dispute, which will also explore deep cuts in U.S. and Russian offensive missile stocks.
Miss Rice, in Moscow with a delegation that included Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans and Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, said after her 40-minute meeting with Mr. Putin that U.S. patience is not infinite.
Mr. Bush "has not set a specific deadline, but it should be obvious to all concerned that the president believes that this is something that will happen relatively soon," Miss Rice told reporters in Moscow. "The testing program will proceed."
But Vladimir Rushailo, Miss Rice's Russian counterpart, warned that Moscow would insist on lengthy and laborious talks in an effort to preserve the ABM Treaty.
"This work calls for a long period of time," said Mr. Rushailo, adding that Mr. Putin would insist that Russian security interests be protected under any U.S. missile-defense project.
The two sides set an expedited round of talks aiming for a resolution of the question when Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin are scheduled to meet at a summit of Asia-Pacific nations in Shanghai Oct. 21 and 22.
While Mr. Ischinger has been named by Mr. Schroeder to the Washington post, he does not officially assume his new position until he presents his credentials formally to Mr. Bush next week.
The ambassador said Germany believes there is still a value in Cold War arms-control pacts such as the ABM Treaty. Berlin wants to see what new security arrangements the Bush administration favors before considering whether to abandon existing accords, he said.
Mr. Ischinger said Mr. Bush's two trips to Europe this summer have greatly improved the new president's image on the continent.
Despite some high-profile conflicts over the Kyoto global warming treaty and other issues, Mr. Ischinger said Germany and the United States share broad agreement on a wide range of policy questions, from engagement with Russia to the Balkans to the creation of a European defense force to complement NATO.
This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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