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Monday, August 20, 2001, updated at 10:50(GMT+8)

Nuclear Arms Key to New Russia-US Talks

A top US arms official flies into Moscow this week for talks with Russian officials hungry for pledges on nuclear arms cuts that could clear the way for a deal on missile defence.

John Bolton, US undersecretary of state for arms control, will meet Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov on Tuesday -- the fifth top US official to visit Moscow in a month.

Russia wants to nail down the outline of a new arms reduction accord, which many experts see as vital to securing Moscow's grudging acceptance of US plans to develop missile defence.

So far, Moscow has refused to revise or dump the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty which bans national missile defence. Washington says the pact is a Cold War relic that must go if it is to confront the threat posed by "rogue states".

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last week failed to persuade his Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov to drop the ABM treaty. Ivanov made it clear concessions on missile defence must be linked tightly to verifiable cuts in nuclear arsenals.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President George W. Bush last month agreed to link talks on the two issues, and ordered officials to step up the pace of talks on defining a new "strategic relationship" reflecting the end of the Cold War.


Rumsfeld last week said his talks in Moscow showed Russia remained "captured to a certain extent by the old Cold War mentality, fear and apprehension and concern about the West."

Moscow complains that Washington has failed to spell out what a new relationship could entail in the security, economic and political fields.

Foreign Ministry experts told the Itar-Tass news agency ahead of Bolton's arrival that Moscow wanted guarantees that warheads taken off missiles as part of a START-3 strategic arms reduction treaty would not be switched back at a later date.

"The American side insists that cuts in nuclear potential should be studied separately from the issue of deployment of a US national missile defence system," one official told Tass.

"But strategic stability is impossible without a tight link between defensive and offensive systems. Mr Bolton's visit to Moscow could bring answers to these questions," he said.

However, many Russian officials believe a current review of the US nuclear stance, which Rumsfeld said last week should be completed in one to two months, makes real progress impossible.

In addition, Moscow wants any agreements in legally binding, verifiable treaty form, unlike Washington which wants to avoid complex treaty negotiations and favours a more flexible approach including memorandums of understanding.

"The system of control under agreed conditions must be retained, for it leads to an increase in confidence, including between partners," said Igor Sergeyev, defence minister until he was named as Putin's security advisor earlier this year.

Some US officials concede that any Russian agreement to missile defence would include "rules of the road", which some Russian experts believe could include ceilings on the number of interceptor rockets featured in any US missile shield.


Washington would prefer to win some form of Russian acquiescence on missile defence before its vigorous testing schedule begins to "bump against" the ABM treaty within months, possibly as early as next spring.

But Rumsfeld made it clear last week that Washington would push ahead if no agreement was possible and give the statutory six months notice of quitting the accord, rather than violate it. Moscow expects that to happen in October or November.

That could cast a cloud over a summit between Putin and Bush at the latter's Texas ranch in November, although US officials are already saying they do not expect a deal on a new security relationship or missile defence and arms cuts by then.

However, Bush has made it clear that before Putin comes to his ranch, he wants his military chiefs to tell him how many warheads the United States actually needs.

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A top US arms official flies into Moscow this week for talks with Russian officials hungry for pledges on nuclear arms cuts that could clear the way for a deal on missile defence.

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