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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. to Tempt Russia on ABM Treaty

WASHINGTON -- U.S. officials hope the lure of American assistance with radar technology will get Russia to agree to amend a landmark anti-nuclear treaty so that both nations can develop limited systems to defend against potential threats from Iran and North Korea.

U.S. negotiators have proposed that the United States help Russia finish a major radar installation near Irkutsk, Siberia, oriented across Russia's vast southeastern coast to keep watch on North Korea, among other nations. In exchange, Moscow would agree to alter the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty so that both countries could establish national missile defense systems.

The discussions with Russia have not advanced past preliminary stages, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition." She said U.S. officials are making it very clear that any U.S. missile defense effort would be directed against "rogue states," not Russia. She mentioned Iran and North Korea.

"We are very concerned about the development of missile technology, nuclear weapons, by the rogue states and consider that to be a threat to us and to the Russians," Albright said. "They are obviously concerned, as are we, about what the future holds ... We want to work together on dealing with what this major threat is from the rogue states."

The ABM treaty, ratified by the Senate in August 1972, bans construction of systems to defend against ballistic missile attacks. An outgrowth of the first strategic arms limitations talks, the treaty is considered a cornerstone arms control agreement.

"We don't want to weaken Russian security. We're looking to enhance both countries' security, and that may need some adjustments to the ABM treaty," White House chief of staff John Podesta said on ABC's "This Week."

He said the goal is to cope with nuclear threats from countries such as Iran and North Korea while leaving the essence of the ABM treaty intact. The radar-enhancement idea drew no fire from senators of either party Sunday.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, a contender for the Republican presidential nomination, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the ABM treaty clearly needs changes. Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said the United States should do "whatever it takes ... to protect our people" from a nuclear attack.

Senator Robert Torricelli, a New Jersey Democrat, told NBC that even with a treaty to ban nuclear testing, "The United States is going to need at least some limited ballistic missile defense." Russia rejected previous U.S. efforts to renegotiate the ABM treaty, and Russian officials have not responded to the current proposal. President Boris Yeltsin said this month in a letter to Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi that Moscow is reluctant to change the ABM treaty.

Just two weeks ago, the commander of Russia's strategic missile forces, Colonel General Vladimir Yakovlev, said the United States would trigger a cold war-style arms race by developing a missile shield in violation of the ABM treaty. It would threaten all disarmament agreements between the two countries, Yakovlev said.

Spurgeon Keeny, president and executive director of the Arms Control Association, called the ABM amendment proposal an overreaction. He doubts the Russians will go along with it.

"Such a minimal treaty adjustment directed solely at North Korea or the so-called rogue states, an essentially nonexistent threat, doesn't make sense," Keeny said.

"The Russians and Chinese cannot believe the U.S. is so terrified of their token capability. This would cost millions and millions of dollars and jeopardize all arms control."