- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 25, 2001

MOSCOW The U.S. ambassador to Russia said last week that the United States wants Russia and NATO to establish closer relations, and that common threats facing the West overshadowed differences over missile defense.
Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said the United States is prepared to consult with Russia over allowing Moscow to coordinate joint activity with NATO, the 19-member military alliance formed to counter Moscow during the Cold War.
"The members of NATO and Russia are increasingly allied or acting as allies against terrorism and other new threats," Mr. Vershbow said at a news conference in Moscow.
His comments followed a summit meeting between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which the two leaders formalized a series of agreements, including one to strengthen Russia's ties to NATO.
During his U.S. visit, Mr. Putin said Russia feels closer relations with NATO would help deal with the threat of terrorism, and he pledged to work with the West to deny terrorists nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
Also Monday, the ambassador expressed hope that Washington and Moscow would be able to bridge differences over Mr. Bush's desire to scrap the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to proceed with plans for a U.S. anti-missile shield.
"We, for our part, are committed to continuing to work on a new strategic framework for the future whether or not we find a compromise on the short-term question of testing under the ABM Treaty," Mr. Vershbow said.
"Missile defense could be an area for close U.S.-Russian collaboration since both of us face and will face these new threats in the future," Mr. Vershbow said.
The ABM Treaty allows each country to protect one area with missile interceptors, but bans nationwide defense. It is based on the assumption that the fear of retaliation would prevent each nation from launching a first strike.
Washington says the planned limited missile defense is needed to protect the U.S. territory from missile threats posed by such nations as North Korea and Iran. But Moscow dismisses such threats as hypothetical and says the national missile defense would tilt the strategic balance in the U.S. favor.
Regarding the conflict in Afghanistan, Mr. Vershbow indicated the United States has "no desire for a long-term presence either in Afghanistan or in the republics of Central Asia."
Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic that borders Afghanistan, has allowed U.S. troops to be stationed there in support of military operations; Tajikistan, also a former Soviet republic that borders Afghanistan, has given approval for U.S. overflights and U.S. officials were evaluating several air bases for possible use by U.S. forces.


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