Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 146

Washington’s aggressive pursuit of its strategic goals was manifest particularly in National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice’s statements last week confirming that the Bush administration is seeking not merely to adjust the ABM Treaty but to dispense with it entirely. Following talks with Putin in Moscow on July 26, Rice told reporters that the 1972 accord, which the Bush administration has said stands as an unacceptable obstacle to the testing and deployment of a U.S. national missile defense system, was a cold war relic that must be scrapped. She also indicated yet again that the Bush administration will proceed with the testing and deployment of a missile defense system even if the two countries are unable to come to an agreement on regarding the ABM treaty. Her comments were a continuation of Bush administration efforts to convince the Russians–and, indeed, the world community at large–that deployment of a U.S. missile defense system is an inevitability to which they must accommodate themselves.

Rice also implied that last week’s talks produced a breakthrough of sorts in Russian-U.S. consultations in this area. “We are now having an argument, a discussion about how we move forward, not whether we are moving forward,” she told reporters in Moscow. This optimistic assessment echoed that of several days earlier, when U.S. officials also went out of their way to suggest after the Putin-Bush talks in Genoa that the two sides were making real progress in these discussions. It was at the Genoa meeting that Putin and Bush unexpectedly produced a short joint statement indicating their intention to link Russian-U.S. consultations on missile defense and the ABM treaty to strategic arms reduction talks.

But just as the Russians had earlier suggested the Genoa statement was something less than a real breakthrough, so they went out of their way in Moscow last week to deny that Rice’s talks with top Russian officials had produced any narrowing of differences between the two countries, or any weakening in Russia’s determination to defend the ABM Treaty. Russian Defense Minister Igor Ivanov, for example, was quoted as saying that “of course, no agreement has been reached.” He allowed only that “principal and conceptual approaches have been confirmed” by the two sides. Other Russian officials were blunter in comments they made later last week. On July 27 Foreign Ministry Sergei Yakovenko said during a live television interview that Moscow had not changed its position regarding the need to maintain the ABM treaty and that suggestions it had given ground “are absolutely untrue.” Other officials were also dismissive of the alleged positive results achieved during Rice’s consultations in Moscow, with some suggesting that the current course of Russian-U.S. arms consultations–including the linking of defensive and offensive systems–in fact differs little from the negotiations format that characterized Russian-U.S. talks during Bill Clinton’s presidency. A Russian daily wrote of last week’s meetings in Moscow that not only had the two sides failed to narrow their differences on all issues under discussion, but that the talks had actually produced some new complications. “There is an illusion of rapid movement forward,” a Novye Izvestia report said, but no real headway is being made.

Meanwhile, Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo, Rice’s opposite number and her official host in Moscow, highlighted another aspect of the differing American and Russian approaches to this current round of consultations. He emphasized that Moscow anticipates a prolonged negotiation process, and suggested that any agreements actually reached during the talks would have to be approved by the Russian parliament. The U.S. side, by contrast, has made it clear that it wants fact-paced talks and a quick agreement not subject to approval by lawmakers in Russia or the United States. Rice suggested in general terms just what sort of timetable the Bush administration has in mind when she said that the United States wants to have concrete proposals on the table by the time that Presidents Bush and Putin meet in Shanghai in October. Russian sources hinted last week, however, that the American delegation had arrived in Moscow without any real, new proposals either on the ABM treaty or–and what is of greatest interest to Moscow–on proposed Russian and U.S. reductions in strategic offensive arms. Indeed, a senior Bush administration official suggested that concrete proposals from the U.S. side on this last issue might not be forthcoming for some time because the Pentagon is in fact still conducting an internal review of U.S. nuclear strategy and weaponry. Russia has proposed lowering the Russian and U.S. arsenals to 1,500 warheads or fewer, but given continuing resistance to such radical cuts in the U.S. military establishment it is unclear whether the Bush administration will be willing to go that low (Reuters, AP, July 26-27; New York Times, Washington Post, Izvestia, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, July 27; Novye Izvestia, July 28).