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U.S. set the stage for dropping out of ABM treaty

By Andrea Koppel
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. officials do not anticipate any harsh reaction to President Bush's announcement of his intention to withdraw from the 1972 ABM treaty because of legwork done in advance.

During Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent swing through Central Asia, Europe and Moscow, U.S. officials worked to "choreograph" with Russia and U.S. allies how they might respond "not in an adversarial way" to Thursday's announcement in Washington.

Powell told his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, in Bucharest, Romania last week that Bush planned to call President Vladimir Putin to give "formal pre-notification" of a U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty.

Powell "made clear what was coming," said a senior State Department official.

"It might have been a crisis if we'd done it in the spring for ideological reasons," said this official. Then Russia might have felt the United States was "abruptly overthrowing the apple cart," he said.

For months, the Bush administration has actively worked the diplomatic side of this issue to make sure events would unfold smoothly.

"What this intervening time does show is that we've tried everything humanly possible to reach agreement ... It was not done precipitously," said another senior administration official.

As proof, these officials point to a statement made by Ivanov at a news conference on Monday, following a day of meetings with Powell in Moscow.

In response to a question from a reporter from Russian state-run television network ORT, Ivanov foreshadowed Moscow's response: "We're not excluding the possibility that the U.S. may withdrawing from the ABM treaty," he said.

Ivanov went on to say his government would "promote the strengthening of the control over cuts in weapons, as well as the non-proliferation regime."

The Bush administration read Ivanov's remarks to say that, whatever happens with respect to the ABM treaty, Russia would not halt efforts to make significant cuts in both the U.S. and Russian offensive ballistic missile arsenals.

During last month's summit, Putin and Bush agreed to slash their respective offensive arsenals by two-thirds. Bush was specific, saying the United States would reduce offensive ballistic missiles to between 1,700-to-2,200. Putin has yet to announce a specific figure, but during Powell's trip to Moscow U.S. officials say Putin signaled Russia is "in the same ballpark."

Administration officials also point to a report on the Russian news wire service ITAR-TASS on Tuesday quoting former Russian officials at a Tuesday briefing in Washington, as further indication of Moscow's anticipated response. These same officials also spoke to CNN on the record about the expected response.

The wire report on Tuesday said the "American secession from the ABM treaty would not exacerbate the bilateral relations."

"Moscow will take the news calmly "without hysteria," Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council's International Committee, said at a session of the Russian-American dialogue.

The head of the council for Foreign and Defense Policy, Sergei Karagonov, said the "American unilateral secession from the treaty is more beneficial for Russia than talks on the treaty modifications where Russia would have to make concessions."

"Russia has not waived its position but it will have free hands now," said Vyacheslav Nikonov, President of the Politics' Foundation.

Administration officials attribute Moscow's anticipated "muted" response -- to months of meetings between the two sides, and deliberate attempts by the Bush administration to work with Russia to find common ground, rather than rush to unilaterally withdraw.

Beginning in Slovenia when Presidents Bush and Putin first met earlier this year to Shanghai and finally in Crawford, Texas and Washington -- Bush, officials say, worked with his Russian counterpart to see if they could find a way to compromise and allow the U.S. to test for 18 months or so and then get out of the ABM treaty.

In Shanghai, there was "some prospect" this might work, said a senior State Department official. "The Russians took an expansive view that testing could be done within the confines of the (ABM) treaty."

But by the time U.S. and Russian defense experts met in New York in early November on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the moment had passed.

"That was the moment we got down to details and they saw we were really serious about developing a missile defense system ...and it was clear that kind of testing doesn't fit within the treaty," explained this senior official.

The first indication of the U.S. plan to give "notice" to withdraw from the treaty came from U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during a trip to Moscow in early November.


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