Russia, U.S. close strategic issues gap

Breakthrough possible on missile defenses, NATO expansion


SHANGHAI, China - Russia and the United States signaled last night that they were near a breakthrough on the important strategic issues that had divided the two since President Bush came to office, in particular Washington's plans to build missile defenses and Russia's troubled relations with an expanding NATO alliance.

The progress was reported last night after a meeting between Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov here in Shanghai.

A Russian diplomat said the meeting had created "favorable conditions" for "forming a new framework for strategic relations" between Moscow and Washington. The next step comes when Bush and President Vladimir V. Putin meet here Sunday on the sidelines of an economic summit meeting of Asian and Pacific leaders.

The diplomat, quoted by the Russian Interfax news agency in a dispatch from Shanghai, said the meeting of the two leaders, to be followed by talks next month at Bush's Texas home, "would be of exceptional significance in this sense."

The burst of momentum in the strategic arms negotiations, stalemated for months after the two leaders opened them this summer at their first meetings in Slovenia and Genoa, Italy, follows Putin's announcement last month that he was opening Russian airspace to the U.S. airlift of military and humanitarian cargoes to Central Asian republics for deployment on Afghanistan's northern frontier.

Along with its support for the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, Russia is offering its oilfields as a secure alternative to dependence on the turbulent Persian Gulf.

"Not only is the Cold War over," Powell said, "the post-Cold-War period is also over."

Washington and Moscow now regard the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States as a watershed event in international relations, a number of experts say, that has offered opportunities for Putin and Bush to battle a common enemy.

This could generate a level of cooperation that inoculates Putin against domestic critics who grumble that he is compromising Russian security by making concessions to Washington. And Putin's unusually strong support for U.S. intervention in Central Asia allows Bush to promote a greater role for Russia in Western security.

Neither side made public the details of any prospective agreement.

The Bush administration's determination to build a missile defense shield has been a source of tension with Russia because such a shield violates the ABM treaty, regarded by Russia as the basis of all strategic arms control.

A senior State Department official traveling with Powell said last night that he would not go so far as to predict that Putin was ready to accept U.S. proposals to modify the ABM treaty to allow extensive testing.

But the official emphasized an "across-the-board" change in attitude by the Russian leadership toward cooperation on everything from strategic issues to fighting terrorism and closer relations between Russia and NATO.

The U.S. official said Russia's decisions this week to abandon a Soviet-era electronic eavesdropping base in Cuba and give up its lease on the Cam Ranh Bay naval base in Vietnam signified a change of thinking beyond the financial savings that both steps would yield for the Russian military.

"Clearly the Russians, in making these decisions for financial or whatever other reasons, do see this as a new opportunity in a changed time," the official said, "and it comes up again when we talk about NATO-Russian cooperation."

The official said NATO and Russian officials had stepped up their consultations in recent weeks to expand their cooperation, but he would not elaborate beyond saying that the cooperation did not include joint military action.

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