M O S C O W, July 23, 2001 -- President Vladimir Putin denied today that the Genoa summit brought a breakthrough in the tense dispute over the United States' plans to build a missile defense system, but saidthere had been progress on which negotiators could capitalize.
Putin's statement came a day after he and President Bushunexpectedly announced in the Italian city that Russia and theUnited States would link talks on missile defense with talks oncutting strategic nuclear weapons.
Putin: Reports 'Not Quite Precise'
Russia has vehemently opposed the proposed U.S. nationwidemissile-defense system. That system would violate theantiballistic Missile Treaty, which Russia says is the keystone ofworld strategic stability.
The Genoa announcement fueled speculation the Kremlin was givingway in the face of Bush's single-minded determination to pushforward the system, and Putin today appeared to try to stiflethat perception.
"Of course there was no principal breakthrough. We confirmedour adherence to the 1972 antiballistic Missile Treaty," Putintold a meeting of top Cabinet officials.
It was "not quite precise that … [Russia] made concessions onthe 1972 ABM treaty," echoed presidential adviser AndreiIllarionov.
But some Russian media saw it differently. "Russia gave up. The1972 treaty has ceased to exist," the newspaper Kommersant said.
Bush Stands Firm
Bush, meanwhile, repeated his contention that the treaty is anoutdated Cold War relic.
"Make no mistake about it, I think it's important to movebeyond the ABM treaty," he said today.
Putin, while denying a breakthrough, said "at the same time,there is significant forward movement." Noting that U.S. nationalsecurity adviser Condoleezza Rice was to come to Moscow this weekto kick off talks on the newly linked issues, he said thenegotiations should "play their own positive role in resolvingthese difficult issues."
The ABM treaty prohibits Russia and the United States fromhaving nationwide missile-defense systems, on the premise thatneither nation would launch a nuclear attack if it could not defenditself against retaliation.
Moscow says scrapping the treaty would undermine stability andspark a new arms race — which would be a severe burden oneconomically struggling Russia. The United States counters that itneeds a national missile defense to protect against possibleattacks by small radical countries that may be developing nuclearweapons.
Despite Putin's warning that Russia would tear up existing armscontrol agreements if the United States dumps the ABM treaty andhis suggestion that Moscow could respond by putting multiplewarheads on existing single-warhead nuclear missiles, Russia'sinsistent objections have gained little ground.
Earlier this year, Russia presented NATO Secretary-General LordRobertson with a proposal for a smaller mobile defense system forEurope, apparently as a counter to the U.S. plan. But the WhiteHouse read that proposal as Russian recognition that missileattacks from "rogue nations" are a potential danger.
Russian officials, apparently seeing themselves backed into acorner, then denied that Moscow recognized such a threat.