Moscow Setting a timetable for strategic arms talks, President Bush's national security adviser and her Russian counterpart on Thursday both said they wanted to move from confrontation to cooperation then refused to budge from their tough positions.
Washington will proceed with tests of a new missile defense system, Condoleezza Rice said, while Russia's Security Council head Vladimir Rushailo said Moscow will insist on long and laborious negotiations to try to salvage the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that forbids such systems.
"The new threats that we face ... won't wait and we've agreed to work very hard over the next several months," Rice said to reporters after she and Rushailo met with President Vladimir Putin.
She added that Bush and Putin would have proposals before them when they next meet, in October in Shanghai, China.
Rushailo, however, said the process would be drawn out.
"This work calls for a long period of time .... I'd like to remind you of the words of President Putin that the national security of the Russian Federation should be maintained," Rushailo cautioned.
Russian officials say abandoning the ABM treaty would destroy the foundations of global security, leading to a new arms race. But Bush's administration contends the treaty has outlived its usefulness, preventing the United States from developing defenses against potential nuclear threats from such nations as Iran and North Korea.
"The treaty itself is an impediment," Rice said.
She said the U.S.-Russian discussions were no longer about whether the United States would move forward with its missile defense plans, but how. The U.S. Defense Department announced earlier this month that it would start construction of a testing site in April.
"Our testing program is designed to give us the most effective system, not to stay within the frame of the ABM treaty. That has not changed," she said.
However, because Moscow is a signatory to the ABM, "we have to work out arrangements with the Russians if we want to move beyond the ABM treaty," Rice said.
Earlier this week, Putin and Bush unexpectedly announced that talks on missile defense would be linked with talks on cutting strategic nuclear weapons. Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov said that Putin had repeated his proposal to cut nuclear warheads on both sides to 1,500, but Rice said no specific numbers had been discussed.
Putin also met Thursday with Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, who were following up efforts by Bush to revitalize economic cooperation with Russia.
At a news conference later, O'Neill rejected suggestions that U.S. economic support was dependent on Russia's dropping its opposition to the missile defense system. "I think these relationships need to move forward on every possibly front," he said.
Both U.S. Cabinet officials promised to provide U.S. support for Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization.
O'Neill said that the United States is "going to be as helpful as we can be in response to what the Russian side wants us to do to help them gain early access to WTO."