- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

Russia has concluded that a U.S. missile defense system is "inevitable" and will eventually strike a deal to allow the system to proceed, a senior Bush administration official predicted yesterday.

Briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity, the official said President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin could reach at least the outlines of a deal on the missile defense plan when they meet in Texas in November.

Russia has sent conflicting signals recently over whether it is prepared to amend or scrap the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which forbids the kind of extensive missile defense system Mr. Bush favors.

Mr. Bush has said he's prepared to abandon the ABM Treaty, but he would prefer a negotiated deal with Moscow that could include deep cuts in offensive nuclear weapons as well.

"You may not find individual Russians using the word 'inevitable' about missile defense, but that's my impression of the attitude there now," the official said.

Mr. Bush argues that the missile defenses are needed to counter nuclear threats from "rogue states" such as North Korea and Iraq threats not even contemplated in the Cold War era when the ABM pact was signed.

The Russians "see rogue states around them closer to their borders in most cases than to ours," the U.S. official said. "I do believe that they are prepared at the end of the day to accommodate limited defenses. Now they want to know just how limited it will be."

While consistently opposing a unilateral U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, Moscow in recent days has toned down its rhetoric.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told reporters in Moscow Tuesday that Russia's relations with the United States can survive the missile defense dispute. He also said that Mr. Putin was prepared to discuss the "new strategic framework" Bush administration aides have proposed to replace the ABM Treaty and other Soviet-era arms-control pacts.

"We believe that bilateral relations with any nation must not be held hostage to any one problem, even if it is a very large one," Mr. Ivanov told the Itar-Tass news service.

Top Pentagon and State Department arms experts will be meeting their Russian counterparts over the next two weeks, ahead of a planned meeting of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Mr. Ivanov later this month.

The administration official dismissed a recent Russian threat to put multiple warheads on its missiles to ensure the U.S. defensive shield does not overwhelm Russia's arsenal.

He noted that Mr. Putin in an interview with a Finnish newspaper earlier this month expressed the view that the limited U.S. defensive plan did not undermine Russia's deterrence capability.

The administration official said one continuing "sore point" in U.S.-Russian relations is the aid being provided by Russian firms to help Iran develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, with top Russian researchers being permitted to travel to Iran.

"We think that the Russians need to confront this contradiction in their own policy," the U.S. official said. "On the one hand they say they are against proliferation … but the continuing pattern of activity can't be unknown to the Russian special services."

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