Rapport, but not an arms deal

Talks will continue toward compromise on missile defense

War On Terrorism : The World

November 16, 2001|By David L. Greene and Mark Matthews | David L. Greene and Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

CRAWFORD, Texas - Despite signs of a growing personal rapport, President Bush and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ended their three-day summit yesterday without an agreement on how the United States can proceed with the development of a missile defense system.

"We have a difference of opinion," said Bush, who took Putin to Crawford High School near his ranch, where they fielded students' questions on issues ranging from Afghanistan to whether Putin enjoyed his Texas barbecue dinner.

"The great thing about our relationship is, our relationship is strong enough to endure this difference of opinion," Bush said. "And that's the positive development."

Both leaders said that talks toward a compromise on missile defense would continue. And they vowed to ensure that their rift over the issue would not mar relations between their nations. Bush hailed Putin as "a man who is going to make a huge difference in making the world more peaceful, by working closely with the United States."

The two presidents found much common ground, agreeing most notably that their countries, former Cold War rivals, would sharply reduce their nuclear arms stockpiles over the next decade. They also committed to continued cooperation in fighting international terrorism and in helping to build a post-Taliban government in Afghanistan free of terrorists and repression.

Bush said he had accepted an invitation from Putin to visit Russia, though he did not say when he would make the trip.

But on the missile defense issue so important to him, Bush failed to achieve what he wanted. He had hoped to reach at least an understanding with Putin that would allow U.S. missile defense testing to proceed aggressively without provisions of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty standing in the way. The treaty bars the development of missile defense systems.

Putin, while signaling that he wants to be flexible on allowing American tests, refused to yield in his insistence that the ABM Treaty remain in force.

Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, told reporters: "One way or another, the United States is going to have to get out of the constraints of the ABM Treaty so that we can begin to explore in a robust way, rather than in a constrained way, what our options are for missile defenses."

She added: "We're not going to violate treaties, so we're going to have to find a way to get out of those constraints."

But Putin did not gain what he had hoped to take from the summit, either. The Russian leader arrived for his first visit to the United States as president with an expressed desire to secure a concrete deal on strategic arms. He will return home without the formal nuclear arms deal he had sought.

At the same time, the Russian president refused to budge in his position that the ABM Treaty should endure.

Putin said yesterday that he and Bush share a desire to protect the world from "future threats," presumably attacks from rogue states or terrorists. The Russian president said his belief that missile defense systems are not the ideal way to counter such threats means only that he differs with Bush on the "ways and means" to reach "the same objective."

Speaking last night on National Public Radio, Putin said: "We simply cannot fail to understand the importance of the quality of this relationship - no matter how difficult the challenges are, how difficult the problems are, that we are solving, such as the ABM Treaty."

Putin was in a strong position politically at home before the summit and will likely remain so, said Andrew Kuchins of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

"I don't think it's ideal [for Putin] that he doesn't come out with a more solid agreement," Kuchins said. Before the summit, he noted, Putin had signaled readiness to compromise on the ABM Treaty and allow more expansive testing.

As long as a formal accord remains elusive, some analysts say, the United States will proceed with tests of an anti-missile system and Moscow will withhold any complaint unless it concludes that the treaty is being violated egregiously.

Rice said the timeline for missile defense testing remains unchanged. But the national security adviser said, perhaps more explicitly than ever, that Bush is open to negotiations on how to allow testing without necessarily scrapping the ABM Treaty.

"We're going to have to move beyond it," she said of the treaty. "What `move beyond it' actually means - does it mean that there is a new strategic framework in place? That is the nature of these discussions, and those discussions are continuing."

Because the president has vowed not to violate the ABM Treaty, Pentagon officials said, any testing in the near future will be kept within the limits of the accord.

The next test is scheduled to take place between the end of this month and mid-December. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said that the test will be altered to make sure it abides by the treaty.

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