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Friday February 23, 2001

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Russian foreign minister says time for dialogue on missile defense

By The Associated Press

MOSCOW - Setting the tone for Russia's first direct contact with the Bush administration, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said yesterday the time had come for serious dialogue with the United States on missile defense and other nuclear issues.

At a news conference two days before he meets Secretary of State Colin Powell for the first time, Ivanov said the world political climate depends on relations between the United States and Russia - a view contested by the Bush administration which does not consider Russia its equal.

"We are in the mood for the most active dialogue at all levels, starting with the highest level ... on the entire range of issues in Russian-American relations," Ivanov said.

Ivanov refused to comment on the arrest this week of Robert Philip Hanssen, a career FBI agent who was charged with spying for Russia, saying he thought the U.S.-Russia agenda was significantly broader than that issue.

Powell and Ivanov will meet tomorrow in Cairo. Ivanov said the meeting place was chosen because both diplomats had plans to be in the Middle East at the same time.

A chill has been blowing between Washington and Moscow since Bush took office last month, with U.S. officials accusing Russia of trying to revive its Soviet ambitions and selling missile technology to countries like North Korea and Iran.

Ivanov's measured, almost bland assessment of U.S.-Russian relations contrasts with the tough talk from Defense Ministry and Kremlin officials who in recent weeks have accused officials in Washington of maligning Russia's reputation.

Saying U.S.-Russian relations had "significant potential in guaranteeing international security," Ivanov added that "We realize perfectly well that to a great extent the world climate depends on just how relations with Russia and the United States take shape."

The agenda for tomorrow's meeting includes missile defense, NATO expansion, the Middle East, Iraq, the Balkans and other issues, in no particular order, Ivanov said.

But it is missile defense that is likely to be the hottest question.

Russia opposes U.S. plans to develop a national missile defense system, and this week presented NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson with an outline for a non-strategic missile defense proposal for Europe to counter the American initiative.

Ivanov repeated the standing Russian argument that a U.S. missile defense program would violate the 1972 ABM treaty and destroy global strategic stability.

"If we pull out one of the links of such a security structure, then it could fall apart," Ivanov said.

Ivanov proposed holding multilateral talks to assess the threats that have prompted the United States to consider developing its own missile shield.

"I think the whole issue of START and ABM that we put together under the term strategic stability requires very serious dialogue with the participation of the United States and other states concerned - Europe and China," he said.

"Even the strongest world power cannot solve such problems alone," Ivanov said. "Historical experience shows that. We propose finding joint paths." He also proposed holding talks on developing a global system of control of rockets and rocket technology.

Joint action is strongly emphasized in the Russian proposals. One of the NATO officials getting their first close look at Russia's missile defense proposals said yesterday they were broad but enough to start serious discussions. "We would need to see a lot more," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

What cheers up top officials at NATO is that they believe Moscow now acknowledges that a missile threat exists and that they can begin to talk about how to meet that threat.

The United States wants to develop interceptors that will shoot down ballistic weapons fired by small potential nuclear powers like North Korea, Iran or Iraq. The Americans say they are willing to provide the European allies and Canada with the technology, if they want it.

The Russian approach would work in phases, NATO officials said. The first phase involves Russian and allied experts evaluating and defining missile threats. If it is decided a military response is required, the two sides will study how that can be accomplished.

"They put a high degree of emphasis on joint development and deployment," said the NATO official. "There is no specific mention of any system."

It is clear from the proposal, however, that it would not be what is called a "boost phase system," that destroys the missile in the firing stage rather than trying to hit it while it is en route to the target.

The Russian ideas apparently involve mobile anti-missile weapons deployed in the areas of greatest risk aimed at shorter-range missiles rather than intercontinental threats.