Putin: U.S. ABM move 'a mistake'
MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian President Vladimir Putin says the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty is a "mistake," but does not threaten Russia's national security.
U.S. President George W. Bush made a formal announcement on Thursday that the United States will leave the 1972 treaty in six months.
In a nationwide television address, Putin repeated Russia's position that the treaty is a cornerstone of world security. He said both countries should create, as soon as possible, a "new framework of our strategic relationship."
"This step was not a surprise for us. However, we consider it a mistake," he said.
"Russia, like the United States and unlike other nuclear powers, has long had an effective system capable of penetrating missile defence," he added.
Putin also responded to Bush's earlier proposal to cut U.S. nuclear warheads by two-thirds, to between 1,700 and 2,200.
He said Russia was ready to bring the number of its warheads down to between 1,500 and 2,200.
In a nod to the improved realtionship between the U.S. and Russia, Putin said the level of bi-lateral relations between the U.S. and Russia should be preserved and used to create a new security framework.
He said both sides should work toward legal documents creating "radical, non-reversible and verifiable reductions in offensive weapons."
The Bush administration has urged moving away from such legal documents, proposing, instead a looser system of understanding.
"Today," said Putin, "when the world has been faced with new threats, one cannot allow a legal vacuum in the sphere of strategic stability."
Before the announcement, Gen. Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of the Russian General Staff, told Interfax news agency: "From a military point of view, the problem of U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty can be solved."
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said the decision was regrettable because it undermined global strategic balances -- but he was not concerned about Russia's security.
"Russia can be unconcerned with its defence systems," said Kasyanov, who is in Brazil for a two-day visit. "Maybe other nations should be concerned if the United States chooses to abandon the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty."
CNN's Jill Dougherty said the U.S. move was a blow for Russia.
"Russia felt that the coalition against terrorism had brought the countries together. They feel an element of hurt that the United States is going ahead with this willy nilly," she said.
Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin discussed the U.S. move by telephone on Thursday, a Kremlin spokeswoman told Reuters.
The ABM treaty prohibits the development, testing and deployment of strategic missile defence systems and components that are based in the air, at sea or in space.
France said after the announcement it wanted a new international arms agreement to replace the ABM Treaty.
The French foreign ministry issued a statement saying: "Beyond the American-Russian bilateral relationship, the need to continue to ensure stability in this new global context remains a task for us all.
"That supposes, in particular, rules and binding international measures, as much bilateral as multilateral."
A spokesman for UK Prime Minister Tony Blair spokesman said: "In terms of reaction, I think we should leave it primarily to the two countries involved. Because it is a bilateral matter between the two of them.
"But in the past we have made no secret of our view that the Cold War is over. Therefore the relationship between the international community, between the States and Russia, but also within the wider international community is very, very different."
CNN's Andrea Koppel says that during Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent trip through Central Asia, Europe and Moscow, U.S. officials worked to "choreograph" with Russia and other U.S. allies how they might respond "not in an adversarial way" to Thursday's announcement.
Powell told his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, in Romania last week that Bush planned to call Putin to give "formal pre-notification." Powell "made clear what was coming," said a senior State Department official.
At his summit with Bush last month in Washington and Crawford, Texas, Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated that a U.S. withdrawal would not harm U.S.-Russia relations.
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