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  U.S., Russia Review Nuclear Treaty

By Sonya Ross
Associated Press Writer
Sunday, Oct. 17, 1999; 4:12 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON –– A potential threat from radical nations, shared by the United States and Russia, motivated a U.S. proposal that they amend a bedrock anti-nuclear treaty to allow limited missile defense systems.

U.S. officials said Sunday U.S. negotiators have proposed that the Americans help Russia finish a major radar installation near Irkutsk, Siberia, oriented across Russia's vast southeastern coast to keep watch on North Korea among others. In exchange, Russia would agree to alter the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty so that both countries could establish national missile defense systems.

The ABM treaty, ratified by the Senate in August 1972, bans construction of systems to defend against ballistic missile attacks. An outgrowth of the first strategic arms limitations talks, the treaty is considered a cornerstone arms control agreement.

"We don't want to weaken Russian security. We're looking to enhance both countries' security, and that may need some adjustments to the ABM treaty," White House chief of staff John Podesta said on ABC's "This Week."

He said the goal is to cope with nuclear threats from countries such as Iran and North Korea, which the Americans consider "rogue states," while leaving the essence of the ABM treaty intact.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told CNN's "Late Edition" the discussions have not advanced past preliminary stages. She said U.S. officials are making it very clear that any U.S. missile defense effort would be directed not against Russia but against rogue states. She mentioned Iran and North Korea.

"We are very concerned about the development of missile technology, nuclear weapons, by the rogue states and consider that to be a threat to us and to the Russians," Albright said. "They are obviously concerned, as are we, about what the future holds. ... We want to work together on dealing with what this major threat is from the rogue states."

Spurgeon Keeny, president and executive director of the Arms Control Association, called the ABM amendment proposal an overreaction. He doubts the Russians will go along with it.

"Such a minimal treaty adjustment directed solely at North Korea or the so-called rogue states, an essentially nonexistent threat, doesn't make sense," Keeny said. "The Russians and Chinese cannot believe the U.S. is so terrified of their token capability. This would cost millions and millions of dollars and jeopardize all arms control."

Russia rejected previous U.S. efforts to renegotiate the ABM treaty, and Russian officials have not responded to the current proposal. Russian President Boris Yeltsin said this month in a letter to Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi that Russia is reluctant to change the ABM treaty.

Just two weeks ago, the commander of Russia's strategic missile forces, Col. Gen. Vladimir Yakovlev, said the United States would trigger a Cold War-style arms race by developing a missile shield in violation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. It would threaten all disarmament agreements between the two countries, Yakovlev said.

National security spokesman Mike Hammer said the United States has discussed "possible sharing of data and information that would be useful" to Russia but would reveal no specifics.

The radar-enhancement idea drew no fire from senators of either party Sunday.

Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said it is clear that the Nixon-era ABM treaty needs changes. His GOP colleague, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said "whatever it takes ... to protect our people" should be done.

Democratic Sen. Robert Torricelli of New Jersey expressed hope that members of both parties, bitterly divided by last week's scrapping of a treaty to ban nuclear testing, can "together work with the Russians to save the (ABM) treaty."

Even with the test-ban treaty, Torricelli said, "The United States is going to need at least some limited ballistic missile defense."

The three lawmakers spoke on NBC's "Meet the Press."

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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