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Rumsfeld in Russia to discuss ABM

Rumsfeld passes by a Russian guard of honour during an official welcome ceremony in Moscow
Rumsfeld passes by a Russian guard of honour during an official welcome ceremony in Moscow  

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is holding talks in Moscow on Monday on the future of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

He is meeting his counterpart Sergei Ivanov to discuss the United States' plans to develop its defence system -- making redundant the 1972 ABM deal.

"With each meeting we have... each one is helpful in that it helps each side have a little better understanding of our respective perspective," Rumsfeld said. Shortly after his arrival on Sunday for the 48-hour visit, Rumsfeld attended an official ceremony, commemorating Russia's victory in World War II, where he told reporters his visit was part of a larger process between the U.S. and Russia.

Monday's talks are expected to cover a wide range of topics, including nuclear arms reduction, NATO expansion and U.S.-Russia relations.

But the key topic is expected to be missile defence and the re-negotiating of the ABM treaty.

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Russia's state-run news agency ITAR-TASS quoted Russian officials as saying that "possible modernisation" of the ABM treaty would be discussed between the two ministers, suggesting possible openness to changes in the treaty.

President Bush has said he would like the U.S. to withdraw from the ABM treaty, which was signed in 1972, so that the country can pursue a national missile defence plan. The treaty prohibits the research and testing such a plan would require.

In an interview with Russian newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda on Friday, Ivanov re-emphasised the importance of the ABM treaty, saying Russia regarded the treaty "as the cornerstone of the entire system of arms control treaties, a system that currently assures strategic stability."

He also voiced his concern over a previous agreement between the U.S. and Russia to reduce their nuclear arsenals.

"The radical reduction of nuclear weapons, in particular to 1,500 warheads by 2008, will not be feasible unless strategic stability is maintained, but this is hardly possible if the U.S. implements their missile defence plans," Ivanov told Krasnaya Zvezda .

Both countries have already agreed to cut those arsenals back to no more than 3,500 by 2007.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin, anxious to save Russian defence money, has discussed cutting that number to 1,500.

The U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal includes 7,200 warheads -- Russia has about 6,000.

Rumsfeld's visit comes after last month's G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, when Bush and Putin agreed to link talks about dismantling nuclear weapons to U.S. plans to erect a missile defence shield.

Senior U.S. officials said Rumsfeld would tell the Russians that it would go ahead with plans to test a limited missile defence shield "like it or not."

-- CNN's National Security Correspondent David Ensor contributed to this report.

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