Genoa summit: Russia drops its opposition to Bush's 'Star Wars' plan

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The Independent US

The United States and Russia agreed yesterday to hold ground-breaking talks linking a deal over President George Bush's "Son of Star Wars" missile shield to big cuts in America's nuclear arsenal.

The unexpected break-through, which was announced at the G8 summit in Genoa, saw the two presidents agree on a framework for negotiations on both defensive and offensive weapons. The agreement provides a basis for compromise between the two nuclear superpowers through concessions on both sides.

The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has been extremely critical of America's plans to construct a missile shield, arguing that they would breach the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty – a cornerstone of international security. Russia had threatened to respond by arming its missiles with multiple nuclear warheads to give Moscow the potential to overwhelm the shield. But yesterday Mr Putin in effect dropped his opposition to "Son of Star Wars", suggesting that such a response might not be necessary if the US gives up enough of its weaponry.

Washington initially resisted linking the debate over missile defence to a reduction of its nuclear arms. Mr Bush had suggested that unilateral cuts would be possible. Yesterday, however, he said the issues of offensive and defensive weapons should go "hand in hand".

Both parties seemed optimistic about the prospect of a deal. Mr Putin said Mr Bush shared his desire to "have large cuts in offensive arms, and together we are going to move forward in this direction".

Mr Bush said that the two sides "have agreed to find common ground if possible", adding: "I believe we'll come up with an accord. We'll work hard towards one."

Mr Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, will travel to Moscow shortly to begin developing a framework for discussions, which have been given new urgency by indications that the US is accelerating plans to deploy the shield. A test one week ago proved largely successful and US officials say they may try to put a rudimentary system into action by 2004-2005.