Washington (AFP) April 26, 2000 - Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Igor Ivanov on Wednesday warned the United States away from committing the "fatal mistake" of altering a key arms control treaty between the two countries.
The United States wants the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) changed so it can build a national missile defense system designed to counter missile attacks from so-called rogue states like North Korea and Iran.
As it stands, the ABM treaty forbids the construction of missile shields. Moscow has strongly opposed US bids to change the accord.
"We still have some time to avoid this fatal mistake," Ivanov told reporters here, explaining the issue would top the agenda in President Bill Clinton's forthcoming summit with Russia counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow in June.
"We believe that this treaty, although it was concluded in 1972, still remains in force and still remains very topical and it should be preserved as the basis of our relations in the sphere of strategic stability," Ivanov insisted.
Asked if his talks with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright earlier in the day had produced any movement on the matter, Ivanov said it was too early to tell.
"It would be too premature to speak of a concrete outcome, but we are holding sincere, constructive talks on the issue," he said.
State Department spokesman James Rubin told a news briefing that the US aim in the discussions was to "make clear our determination to adjust the ABM Treaty because the world has changed."
"The world of 1972 of the nuclear arms competition between the United States and the Soviet Union has changed, and now the real dangers that we face are from the third countries, the North Koreas, the Irans and others. We've been making this case to the Russians."
But in Congress, where Ivanov met with several key senators Wednesday, the head of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee threatened to block any arms control legislation introduced during Clinton's remaining months in office.
Republican Jesse Helms, who claims the ABM treaty is invalid as it was negotiated with the now defunct Soviet Union, stated his panel "will not consider any new, last-minute arms control measures that this administration negotiates in its final, closing months in office."
Helms, a staunch Clinton foe, wants a more ambitious national missile defense system rather than the limited system supported by the Clinton administration.
Clinton is expected to use the June summit with Putin to try and persuade the Russian leader to yield to revision of the treaty before deciding on the issue in October.
Ahead of Ivanov's Pentagon visit later Wednesday, Russian opposition to changing the treaty was criticized by US Defense Secretary William Cohen.
Cohen said the United States would be guided by its own national security interests in deciding whether to deploy the shield. It would not, he said, be influenced by the Russian parliament's April 15 vote linking ratification of the START II treaty to the missile defense system.
Ivanov reiterated Wednesday that Russia was prepared to make deep cuts in nuclear weapons -- but not if Washington fields the anti-missile system, which he said would destroy the 1972 treaty and put in jeopardy 30 years of arms control agreements.
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