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Moscow denies missile shield U-turn

Rushailo and Rice
Rice meets her Russian counterpart Vladimir Rushailo in Moscow  


MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia has denied it has been persuaded to re-examine its position on the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty -- despite U.S. hints to the contrary.

U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was in Moscow this week presenting President George W. Bush's arguments to alter the treaty to allow Washington to build a new anti-missile shield.

Rice said after meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin that the two sides were now discussing "how you move forward, not if you move forward."

Russia has said the treaty is the cornerstone of arms control and needs to be preserved. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said on Friday that Moscow had no intention of dropping its opposition to U.S. missile plans.

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Asked if Moscow had changed its position on the treaty, he said: "These suggestions are absolutely untrue."

Yakovenko said in an interview with RTR state television that during talks with Rice, "we did not hear any new arguments or new elements that would make us depart from the 1972 ABM treaty."

Russian officials say abandoning that agreement would destroy the foundations of global security, leading to a new arms race.

But Bush's administration contends the treaty has outlived its usefulness, preventing the United States from developing defences against potential nuclear threats from such nations as Iran and North Korea.

At their meeting in Genoa, Italy, earlier this week, Putin and Bush unexpectedly announced that talks on missile defence would be linked to talks on cutting strategic nuclear weapons.

Rice and Russian National Security Council chief Vladimir Rushailo said that expert-level talks would begin in early August, and Rice said Bush and Putin would have the first proposals before them when they meet in October.

But Rushailo said he expected a protracted negotiating process. Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov said that while meeting Rice, Putin repeated his proposal to cut nuclear warheads on both sides to 1,500. Rice, however, said no specific numbers had been discussed.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Friday he was not surprised that Russia continues to stand by the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, but Washington would keep trying to persuade Moscow to change it.

"If that's what the Foreign Ministry spokesman said it doesn't surprise me. It has been their consistent position over time," Powell said.

"We are discussing with them the problems we have with that treaty with respect to a new strategic framework and missile defence so I'm not surprised by the statements," he added.






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