Clinton, Putin begin talks on nuclear weapons, trade

U.S. might propose deal on missile defense plan


MOSCOW - President Clinton and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin went straight to work last night at the beginning of a three-day summit that marks a new chapter in the uneasy relationship between the world's two greatest nuclear powers.

In keeping with Putin's no-nonsense reputation, a senior administration official told reporters here last night that the two leaders "got right down to business" at the Russian leader's apartment in the Kremlin. Over dinner, Clinton and Putin discussed arms control, the strategic nuclear balance, threats to international trade and issues in the Caucasus and the Balkans, the U.S. official said.

He described the two-hour, 45-minute session as "a good beginning." Clinton and Putin planned a private meeting this morning, followed by two larger sessions.

Tomorrow, Clinton is scheduled to be the first U.S. president to address the Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament.

This is Clinton's fifth trip to Moscow but his first meeting with Putin since the former KGB spy was elected to succeed Boris N. Yeltsin. Clinton, aides said, is eager to assess the assertive new Russian leader and to press for economic reform, greater respect for human rights and a fundamental change in the defense strategy Moscow and Washington have shared for 28 years.

With America's European allies watching nervously, Clinton will ask Putin to approve amendments to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that would allow the United States to develop a limited defense against missiles fired by rogue nations such as North Korea or Iraq.

Clinton will stress to Putin that the proposed system would include 200 interceptors, enough to shoot down 40 to 50 incoming missiles - not nearly enough to protect the United States from Russia's nuclear forces.

As a sweetener, Clinton could offer to share some of the U.S. missile defense technology. But how to do that remains subject to negotiation, said White House national security adviser Samuel R. Berger.

Russian officials warn that if the United States creates even a limited missile defense, Russia would have to reverse its course and respond by building nuclear warheads.

Putin said in a pre-summit interview on NBC that the United States and Russia should work together on a missile defense system.

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