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U.S.: Official Calls Missile Consultations Constructive

Washington, 14 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The State Department says ongoing consultations between the United States and a number of countries on U.S. plans to develop a limited missile defense system are constructive and useful.

Spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters 11 May that these consultations are at an initial stage.

"We're not at a stage of going out to announce decisions and ask for support, and that was not the nature of these consultations. And that's, I think, the importance of the consultations and that fact is, in fact, recognized by the governments that we've seen."

U.S. delegations have already visited NATO headquarters in Brussels, London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Warsaw, The Hague, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Seoul, Moscow, Ankara, and New Delhi. The United States also added Ukraine and Canada to the list of countries it will consult on President George W. Bush's missile defense proposals.

Boucher said State Department officials will go to Kyiv on 19 May and a separate team will visit Ottawa on 22 May. He did not say who would lead the delegations.

Russia said Moscow had more questions than answers at the end of the initial consultations. Asked to comment on Moscow's assessment, Boucher said:

"The Russians said there was a good discussion, something about more questions than answers at this stage, but that's not surprising, either. "

Bush said last week the United States needed a system to protect against missiles fired by what he called "the world's least responsible states."

Opponents of the missile defense concept say the technology does not exist to make it work. They also say even a sophisticated system, if it can be developed, would be overwhelmed by an attacker, and that it could spark an arms race.

Still, Boucher said the Bush administration is satisfied so far.

"Generally we've found that our allies and friends have welcomed the consultations, they've reacted positively to the administration's efforts to discuss the issues with them before we make major decisions. We obviously appreciate the willingness of the allies to discuss this issue and to engage with us in a constructive and cooperative approach."

One chief obstacle in the way of developing a missile shield is the Cold War-era Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Bush has said the treaty is outdated. Boucher said on 11 May it has not been decided whether to try to modify the ABM Treaty or to abandon it.