- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 8, 2001

In the most specific language to date, the Bush administration said yesterday it is not considering any amendments that would keep the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in place when Russian President Vladimir Putin visits the United States next week.
During a series of recent meetings in both capitals, a "stark" change in Moscow's view of the 1972 accord has crystallized, a senior administration official said. The pact, which Russia had called the cornerstone of strategic stability, prevents both parties from building comprehensive nationwide missile defenses.
"I don't know that the amendment route is one we would consider," the official said, calling the ABM Treaty "dangerous" and "an impediment to better relations with Russia."
In February, Mr. Putin was predicting the "unraveling of arms control" if Washington went ahead with tests that conflicted with the accord, but now he acknowledges that "the United States has a right" to withdraw from it and "that won't be the end of the world," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Although the two sides have made progress over the past several months, an agreement lowering the limits on U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles, which Moscow has linked with any deal on missile defense, may not be completed during Mr. Putin's Tuesday-through-Thursday summit with President Bush, another senior official said.
The leaders are unlikely to impose either equal or precise limits on U.S. and Russian long-range warheads, he said, but they could set ranges far below the current totals of about 6,000 each, "possibly but not certainly" with different ranges for the Cold War foes.
Russia has proposed levels as low as 1,500 warheads on each side, while the Bush administration is reportedly considering 1,750 to 2,250 warheads apiece.
A final decision will be made by the presidents, but talks on weapons cutbacks could go on for some time, the officials said.
Mr. Putin is scheduled to arrive in Washington late Monday and meet with Mr. Bush on Tuesday at the White House. He will travel to Mr. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, the next day.
This will be the two presidents' fourth meeting.
Even though the White House has played up the comfort and chemistry the two men share, that's not enough to build a solid relationship between the two countries, the U.S. official said.
The relationship, he added, "was moving in a positive direction" from the beginning, but that trend has accelerated with Russia's cooperation in the U.S. campaign against terrorism.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin also will discuss what the White House called "particularly difficult issues": freedom of the media, the breakaway republic of Chechnya and Russia's relations with some of its neighbors.
Mr. Bush will also take up with Mr. Putin the technological assistance that the administration is convinced Russia has provided to Iran's nuclear weapons program, the official said.
"Russian transfers of sensitive nuclear technology concerns us very much" and it will be addressed, he said, noting that Mr. Bush will make the point that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose serious dangers.
Mr. Putin insisted in an American television interview taped Monday in the Kremlin that Russia was not providing dangerous weapons technology to Iran, calling such allegations a "legend."
But Ephraim Sneh, a former Israeli general and now transportation minister, said yesterday that he was certain "the central support for the Iranian nuclear project is provided by Russia."


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