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Russia: Putin Calls U.S. ABM Decision A 'Mistake'

Moscow, 13 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said today the United States' decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty was a mistake but it did not threaten Russia's security. The Kremlin said Putin discussed the U.S. decision announced earlier today with Chinese leader Jiang Zemin. The White House in Washington said U.S. President George W. Bush also spoke today with Jiang about his decision. There has been no official Chinese reaction so far but China in the past has sharply opposed U.S. plans to pull out of the ABM treaty.

Putin said: "This step was not a surprise for us. Nevertheless, we consider this decision a mistake. As it is known, Russia, as well as the United States and unlike the rest of the nuclear powers, has long designed an efficient system for overcoming the anti-ballistic missile defenses, so I can, will full confidence, say that the decision made by the U.S. president does not threaten the national security of the Russian Federation."

In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he will meet with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in Brussels next week to discuss relations between their countries now that Bush has decided to withdraw from the ABM Treaty. Rumsfeld did not say exactly when the meeting would take place, or whether he plans to visit other countries.

NATO had no official reaction. NATO spokesman Ives Brodeur said the allies have yet to discuss the U.S. decision between themselves.

Britain played down the move, saying maintaining strategic stability was more important than the means to achieve it.

France said it wants a new international arms agreement to replace the 1972 ABM treaty between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union.