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U.S./Russia: Talks End Without Changes In Attitudes

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and visiting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov yesterday concluded a second day of intensive talks at the State Department on a broad spectrum of bilateral issues. State Department Correspondent Lisa McAdams reports that while both sides called the talks concrete and productive, there were no audible signs of a change in key positions on arms control by either side.

Washington, 28 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov's final day of closed-door talks in Washington concluded Friday with a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in the State Department's Treaty Room.

Our correspondent reports there were no treaties signed, just pledges to keep up the dialogue on a whole host of issues Washington and Moscow deem necessary for maintaining their bilateral relationship.

Albright told reporters that she and Ivanov had discussed a number of issues in depth, including regional security and trade and investment, as well as events in Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Balkans and the Middle East. But Albright said the bulk of her second-round discussions with Ivanov focused on issues of non-proliferation and arms control -- issues expected to be a key theme at the June 4-5 summit in Moscow between Russian leader Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Bill Clinton.

At the heart of the differences between the Clinton administration and Moscow is the development of a limited national missile defense system, which Washington says is necessary to defend the U.S. against potential "rogue" threats from communist North Korea or Iran. Moscow, Beijing and other capitals are opposed, saying it would weaken the fabric of international arms control.

President-elect Putin has warned that if Washington goes ahead with missile defense, Moscow may sever its disarmament agreements with the United States. Ivanov left out the threat yesterday, at least publicly, but the message was still the same:

"We believe -- and it has been stressed at the highest levels -- the ABM treaty of 1972 should remain a cornerstone of the strategic stability and the basis for strategic stability in the world."

Ivanov said Russia is confident this corresponds to the interests of both Russia and the United States.

But it would appear from Secretary Albright's remarks that the U.S., too, is holding firm in its opposing position:

"We are proposing the national missile defense and also deep cuts in nuclear weapons. That is the way we think it is appropriate to deal with the threats that we face in the 21st Century."

The U.S. missile defense plan would first require that amendments be made to the Anti-ballistic missile treaty (ABM), a Soviet-era pact.

Moscow is opposed, as is the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina). In a defiant speech Wednesday, Helms vowed to stop any arms deal with Russia during the rest of President Clinton's term.

"Not on my watch," Helms said, adding that the committee -- which has jurisdiction over treaties -- would handle only routine work on existing treaties for the remainder of the year.

Asked how she felt about that, Albright had an equally defiant reply:

"I don't think we can take a pause for the rest of the year in defending U.S. national interests, because neither the threats are taking pause nor is there -- would it be suitable for us not to be concerned about national interests 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until the end of this administration."

The U.S. elects a new president in November, who will take office in January of 2001.

Albright said strategic arms control was another much discussed item with Ivanov. Here, she stressed that the U.S. was determined to continue working with Russia to promote nuclear stability through further mutual reductions in nuclear arsenals.

Russia and the United States already have started preliminary talks on a START-III treaty, to cut the number of nuclear warheads they each have to below the levels set in START-TWO of 1993.

(Irina Lagunina contributed to this report)