The United States is determined to test the so-called "Son of Star Wars" anti-missile system regardless of Russian objections, the top security adviser to President George Bush said yesterday in Moscow.
Condoleezza Rice, the US National Security Adviser, said after a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin that Mr Bush wants to test and evaluate the system, which is banned by the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, because of the threat from so-called rogue states.
The US and Russia would have intensive talks about reducing the number of their nuclear missiles in the next few months, she said, but "the new threats that we face ... won't wait".
The high-powered US delegation in Moscow has made clear that it regards the 1972 pact, which accepted that neither America nor the Soviet Union could win a nuclear war, as dead and almost buried. "Our testing programme is designed to give us the most effective system, not to stay within the frame of the ABM treaty," said Ms Rice. "This has not changed."
Russia contends that the ABM treaty is the cornerstone of nuclear stability and should be preserved. Officials have been openly scornful of Washington's claim to feel threatened by North Korea, Iraq and Iran. One Russian newspaper has pointedly printed an interview with Admiral Stansfield Turner, a former CIA director, who says: "The new missile defence system is against Russia and China. [The President] is selling the idea to the American people that there is a threat from North Korea and the so-called rogue states."
Kim Jong-Il, the North Korean leader, who is due to see Mr Putin next week in Moscow, said yesterday as he embarked on a 10-day train journey across Russia that US fears of a missile threat were "groundless".
Earlier this week in Genoa Mr Bush and Mr Putin caused surprise by agreeing that talks on missile defence would be linked to discussions on cutting strategic nuclear missiles. Russia would like to do this because it does not have the resources to replace its ageing nuclear force. Ms Rice said yesterday that talks between experts would go ahead quickly on an agreed timetable so that the US and Russian leaders would have new proposals in front of them when they next meet in Shanghai in October.
Both sides were eager yesterday to put an optimistic gloss on their discussions. Sergei Ivanov, the Russian Defence Minister, said: "I am much less worried today than I was one year ago that either of us are ready to take steps that can threaten stability."
Neither Mr Putin nor Mr Bush wish, for their own reasons, to be seen to be starting another Cold War. But while both men are willing to talk, Russia will not give Washington a free pass to abrogate the ABM treaty, as Mr Bush is determined to do.
The US will soon start clearing trees in a forest in Fort Greely in Alaska to open a test site for missile defence which would be in breach of the ABM treaty.
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