U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin concluded their first summit in Moscow on Sunday. As expected, the two leaders were unable to bridge differences on U.S. plans to consider building a limited national defense shield against nuclear missiles. In order to go ahead, the U.S. either needs permission from Russia or to abandon the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. RFE/RL Senior Correspondent Frank T. Csongos reports from Washington.
Washington, 5 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The United States and Russia say there is an emerging nuclear missile threat from so-called rogue states. But a just-concluded summit in Moscow failed to produce an agreement on how to counter it.
U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin did agree, however, in six hours of talks, to continue their discussions on nuclear arms control. Both sides will draft a report on ways to neutralize potential nuclear attacks from such countries as North Korea, Iraq, and Iran.
None of these nations are believed to currently possess nuclear weapons and the inter-continental ballistic missiles to deliver them. But recent U.S. intelligence reports say these countries are working on such technology and could possess it in a few years.
The United States wants to amend the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty to allow it to deploy a limited national missile defense system. Russia has strongly opposed changing the Cold War-era treaty for fear it could be used to neutralize Russian missiles as well, thus altering the balance of power.
Clinton explained the U.S. position at a joint news conference with Putin.
"We have agreed to a statement of principles which I urge you to read carefully. It makes clear that there is an emerging ballistic missile threat that must be addressed, though we have not yet agreed on how best to do so. We have acknowledged that the ABM treaty foresees the possibility of changes in strategic environment that might require it to be updated."
Clinton told Putin that the U.S. does not want to abrogate the ABM treaty in order to build the missile defense system.
"I do not want the United States to withdraw from the ABM regime, because I think it has contributed to a more stable, more peaceful world. It has already been amended once, and its framers understood that circumstances might change, and threats might arise that were outside the context of U.S.-Russian relations. We acknowledge that there is a threat, it needs to be met, and we're trying to bridge our differences, and I think that's where we ought to leave it."
Putin said Russia considers the ABM treaty a pivotal arms control agreement with the U.S.
"Look at the ABM treaty -- there are indeed very many questions there. We included in the statement (on Principles of Strategic Stability), about which you just heard and that you know as a basic principle, the maintaining of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty as a cornerstone for preserving a security system."
Clinton told Ekho Moskvy radio in a phone-in appearance the U.S. expects to face an initial threat within five years, and said technology for the limited national missile defense will be available within that time. He told Russian radio listeners not to be scared by the U.S. plan.
The 1972 ABM treaty limits both countries' abilities to build missile defense systems. The underlining logic was to encourage the U.S. and the then-Soviet Union to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles without worrying about eroding their deterrent capability.