Bush Proposes Joint Development of Missile Defense With Russia

In a letter sent to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday, US President George Walker Bush proposed the two countries jointly develop missile defense systems instead of the Washington-desired national missile defense (NMD) shield.

The message was conveyed by US Republican Congressman Kurt Weldon, who is heading a US Congress delegation on a visit to Russia.

Bush offered in his message a project for jointly developing a missile defense system, Weldon told reporters.

The United States and Russia could join hands in research into various aspects of missile defense, place orders with Russian enterprises for the production of its elements, and create a common missile defense control system in the future, the congressman said.

This was the first time that the new US administration made a constructive suggestion to Moscow over its missile defense plans, backing off the worldwide-criticized unilateral NMD program.

Weldon handed the letter during his meeting with Boris Gryzlov, head of the pro-Putin Unity party faction in the State Duma, lower house of the Russian parliament.

Gryzlov told journalists after Monday's meeting that the main purpose of the dialog is to prevent a U.S. unilateral withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty.

Weldon stressed that the United States is definitely ready to conduct negotiations with Russia on joint work on collective missile defense.

The two countries can work jointly in order to protect not only their own peoples but also the population of Europe, he said.

The visiting US legislators also called for holding a meeting between the presidents of the two countries as soon as possible to narrow the sides' disputes over the ABM problem.

Weldon noted that the more such a meeting is delayed, the more misunderstanding will build up in Russian-U.S. relations.

The Congress members were invited to Moscow by the Unity party. Weldon said he met with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld before coming here and the latter had said the United States is awaiting a go-ahead for cooperation in improving the missile defense.

The U.S. Congress approved the NMD bill in March 1999, which was aimed to alter the 1972 ABM treaty and has triggered strong opposition from Russia. In June 2000, Putin proposed to then US President Bill Clinton that the two countries create a common missile defense system, but was refused. Shortly after that, Putin advocated building a pan-European missile defense system, which also ended with no results.

Bush's new idea show some positive changes and something placatory in the U.S. policy on ABM issue, observers said.

People's Daily Online --- http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/