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Russia: Moscow Responds In Kind To U.S. Anti-Missile Plan

Moscow, 2 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- In its first official response to President George W. Bush's announced plan to pursue a controversial program for National Missile Defense -- or NMD -- Russia has welcomed the U.S. leader's call for open negotiations while detailing plans for its own missile defense.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, speaking today in Moscow, said he applauded Bush's pledge in a speech last night to consult with Russia and other interested parties before proceeding with the missile defense system:

"I think it is of crucial importance that the U.S. president declared that his administration has no intention to take unilateral steps, is not planning to put already-made decisions on the [negotiating] table, and intends to consult its allies, friends, and other states -- Russia in particular."

Ivanov also said President Vladimir Putin has laid out his own complex program for Russian strategic arms and defense systems:

"This program includes Russia's readiness to proceed with significant cuts in strategic offensive weapons to the point of 1,500 nuclear warheads on each side, and possibly fewer. As we understand it, this proposal is in keeping with the approach of the present U.S. administration."

In the Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, reactions today were mixed over Bush's announcement.

The NMD program, which Bush defended as an appropriate response to new nuclear threats in a changing world, has been criticized in the past by some nations -- including Russia -- as likely to spur a new arms race.

But Vladimir Lukin, deputy Duma speaker and a member of the liberal Yabloko faction, said today it was time for Russia to accept "new political realities" in the area of global defense.

The Interfax news agency quoted Lukin as saying that Russian diplomacy is too quick to say "no," and should instead begin adapting its priorities to better suit "what is possible."

Lukin cited as one such "political reality" the United States' intention to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty banning all but a minimal missile defense shield in both Russia and the U.S.

For the past 30 years, the ABM treaty has been seen as a guarantor of strategic stability by preventing an advantageous first-strike position in any one country.

Lukin said that preserving the ABM treaty is secondary to finding fresh alternatives to "assure a balance of strategic forces." He also commended Bush's speech for opening the possibility for negotiations between Washington and Moscow.

But Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed an opposing view. He said the Duma may move to denounce the 1993 START-II treaty on strategic arms reductions -- which it ratified only last year -- if the United States takes what he called "concrete steps" to leave the ABM treaty.

Communist Party head Gennady Zyuganov also criticized Bush's decision to press ahead with a missile defense program and called upon the Russian government to defend the country's "national interests."