MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin firmly rejected the Bush administration's push to jointly withdraw from a treaty banning national missile defenses but spoke hopefully Monday of agreeing to mutual cuts in nuclear weapons.
"You know our attitude toward the ABM treaty of 1972," Putin told reporters before meeting with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld at the Kremlin. "For us, it's unconditionally linked with both the Start II and Start I treaties. I would like to underline that."
He was referring to nuclear arms treaties negotiated during the 1990s, the second of which has yet to be implemented. In Russia's view, abandoning the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty would mean the end of the nuclear arms treaties, and that in turn would undermine international security.
Putin said Russia is willing to negotiate nuclear force reductions as he and President Bush announced at their meeting in Italy last month. He said he was waiting for the United States to answer several critical questions on this, however, including the size of reductions, the timing and verification measures.
On the matter of Bush's missile defense plan, Putin said, "We would like to get military and technical parameters of the proposals which have been formulated by your (Rumsfeld's) department."
Later at a news conference with Rumsfeld, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov emphasized Russia's unwillingness to abandon the ABM treaty. "We feel no compunction to leave one or any other treaty or accord which we currently have signed," he said.
Ivanov said that before a new set of negotiations could begin, both sides would have to reach an understanding on the parameters -- "namely, the thresholds and limits, both on offensive and defensive systems."
His reference to limits on defensive weapons was especially significant since the Bush administration wants to do away with treaty limitations on testing and deploying national missile defenses. It also is not clear that Bush is willing to enter into detailed negotiations on nuclear arms cuts.
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