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New York Times
October 28, 2001
Bush Adviser Says Russia Is Warming to U.S. ABM Tests

WASHINGTON, Oct. 27 President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, says Russia's leaders are becoming persuaded that the administration's plans to test a missile defense system are "not actually a threat" to Moscow.

Ms. Rice's assessment of the negotiations with Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin, marks the first time that an administration official of her rank has suggested that Russia is dropping its objections to the Pentagon's proposed testing plans.

In an interview on Friday before leaving for Camp David with President Bush, Ms. Rice said months of consultations were now "bearing fruit." She declined, however, to go into any detail about the outlines of the deal on missile defense taking shape in advance of Mr. Putin's arrival here in a little over two weeks.

Interviews with several other administration officials indicated that they were now working on an assumption that Russia may agree to permit the tests and that Mr. Bush, in turn, will postpone any decision on abandoning the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty, which Russia views as a cornerstone of arms control.

The president has often called the treaty a relic of the cold war, an outdated and even dangerous accord that prevents the United States from strengthening national defense.

But his declaration of war on global terror after Sept. 11 now requires that he stay on good terms with Mr. Putin, and with European allies that largely share Russia's view that the ABM treaty should be preserved.

Ms. Rice presented what she views as the latest development not as a pragmatic quid pro quo with the Russians, but as an American breakthrough in the administration's constant efforts to change the Kremlin's mind about the plans for missile defense.

"I think that the Russians are beginning to see that what we've said all along is true: that the near-term program for missile defense, which is really a testing and evaluation program, is not actually a threat to them," Ms. Rice said.

She stepped around questions about the meaning of Mr. Putin's comments last weekend in Shanghai, where he saw Mr, Bush and announced that "we can reach agreements."

His statement was widely interpreted as meaning that he expected to reach at least a partial deal during his trip here, which will include a visit to Mr. Bush's ranch in Crawford, Tex.

But Ms. Rice added that the administration had now reviewed its testing plans for the antimissile system with Russian officials several times from Mr. Bush's personal discussions with Mr. Putin to numerous talks between Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his Russian counterpart, Sergei B. Ivanov, and others.

"And I think that all the time that was spent in the consultations between Don and Ivanov, and when the Russians came here, and we laid out to them what's in the missile defense program, is bearing fruit," she said. "I think they've gone back and crunched it and sort of looked at it with a calculated military eye and said, `O.K., the Americans are right. There isn't a threat.' "

Speaking in her corner office in the West Wing, Ms. Rice showed no anxiety about the progress of the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban's survival skills or the spread of anthrax around New York and Washington.

It was still unclear what price the Russians might extract in return for their agreement to allow the testing or to overlook a treaty violation during an American test phase. Nor is it certain that a deal will be reached; Secretary of State Colin L. Powell still has to meet with his Russian counterpart before Mr. Putin's visit.

But if Mr. Bush strikes a deal that lets the Pentagon move forward on its schedule of tests, both sides will have grounds to claim success.

If Mr. Bush can go ahead with the testing, he can tell missile defense advocates in the Republican Party that he reached an accord that allows them to move into the project's next phase. He is also hoping to demonstrate that over time he can convince Mr. Putin that the whole treaty should be scrapped.

If a deal can be struck, it would mark a huge change in Mr. Bush's relationship with Mr. Putin, a relationship that started off rocky but has progressively improved.

Before the two ever met, Mr. Bush was talking about scrapping the treaty and Mr. Putin was traveling around Europe and Asia raising alarms about American unilateralism. But their first meeting, five months ago, was surprisingly positive, and Mr. Bush talked of meeting a man he could trust a line that was often parodied, given Mr. Putin's background as a K.G.B. agent.

By the time they saw each other again in Genoa, Italy, this July, they began to get down to business. Mr. Putin wanted to link any antimissile system negotiations the administration insisted on calling them "consultations" with discussions of how deeply both sides would cut their nuclear forces. Mr. Bush agreed, though reluctantly. The consultations gained speed.

When Sept. 11 came, Mr. Putin called Mr. Bush to say that he knew American forces were going on high alert, and to prevent any escalation of tensions, Mr. Putin canceled some Russian military exercises scheduled for that day. Mr. Bush has said that moment was "the end of the cold war."

Then Mr. Putin agreed to allow American intelligence and other military operations to gain access to the Afghanistan border via former Soviet territories. Last weekend in Shanghai, the first time they had met since Sept. 11, also marked the first time Mr. Putin said a deal was in the works.

Since the terror attacks, Mr. Putin has talked often of winning Russian entry into the World Trade Organization and Mr. Bush has said little about Russian repression in Chechnya. Mr. Putin has made the case that Al Qaeda is active in Chechnya in hopes of winning greater latitude to act there against the separatists, though the Bush administration insists that it will keep up the pressure for a political settlement. As for a missile defense system, a long test and evaluation period would be required before deployment, just as with any new weapons system, especially one this uncertain and complex.

Mr. Putin, for his part, can argue to his constituents that he stopped Mr. Bush from walking away from the ABM treaty, which the Russian leader and a vast majority of his military and political establishment view as the foundation of arms control.

The Russians have insisted that the ABM treaty is "unconditionally linked" to other arms control pacts, especially those limiting offensive arms.

Administration officials said they were still examining whether a protocol or exchange of notes would be sufficient to secure an agreement allowing the Defense Department to proceed with a broad, accelerated testing program. Any amendment to the treaty would require the Senate's formal approval, which missile defense advocates in the administration argue would slow the test schedule. But many in the Senate will demand a voice in any lesser alteration to the treaty.

Until Mr. Rumsfeld on Thursday announced the delay and alteration of three missile defense tracking tests, the United States risked complaints that it would be violating the treaty as early as this week.

In the run-up to the Bush-Putin meeting, those in the administration who had advocated swift withdrawal from the treaty have fallen noticeably quiet. They had argued that security interests could be secured only by invoking America's right to withdraw from the ABM treaty after a six-month notification, with or without Russia's blessing.

"The goal is still to find an acceptable arrangement with Russia to move beyond the treaty or to get out of it," an administration official said. "This could take a variety of different forms. We have always been open to the form."

Mr. Rumsfeld's decision this week to highlight his delay of a series of missile defense tests gave the president more negotiating space with Mr. Putin.

But it also served as a public alert to missile defense advocates in and out of government that, at least according to the Pentagon's own restrictive interpretations, the treaty already was constraining vigorous experiments needed to move ahead with an antimissile shield.

Several administration officials confirmed that they had seen movement from the Russians toward an agreement to allow American missile defense tests outside the current treaty limits, and that some sort of deal was a distinct possibility when the presidents meet next month.

But one official cautioned that Mr. Bush's national security team was still drafting its negotiating plan, and that the outcome of the talks was far from certain.

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