Russia unconvinced in talks on U.S. missile shield plans


MOSCOW - After a week of consultations with allies and former adversaries, the Bush administration has failed to overcome deep concerns over whether its proposal to erect an array of missile defenses and abandon a major arms control treaty would undermine the strategic balance and promote an arms race.

A U.S. team led by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was wrapping up its meeting with top Foreign Ministry officials here yesterday when the ministry spokesman, Alexander Yakovenko, announced that the American delegation had not addressed Russia's fundamental questions.

"The United States has been unable to give us arguments to convince us that they see clearly how to solve the problems of international security without damaging disarmament agreements which have stood for 30 years," Yakovenko said.

It was a message that echoed the skepticism expressed from London to Berlin and from Tokyo to Seoul.

Moscow's message yesterday included a new warning from military leaders that "Russia possesses the technical, intellectual and technological potential" to respond to a unilateral American deployment of missile defenses.

But there were also strong hints yesterday that Moscow was continuing to press in private for a prominent role in a missile defense program that would bind it more closely with Europe and the United States, a strategy that might leave China more isolated. The almost unanimous chorus of alarm in Europe has allowed Moscow to appear less confrontational.

As three American teams fanned out across continents this week, many countries tried to convey receptivity to new ideas on how to confront the threat from "rogue" nations that are arming themselves with ballistic missiles.

But they also emphasized that President Bush continues to withhold critical details about how his missile defense proposal would be accomplished, who would participate, who would not and how nations left outside the umbrella might react.

Though Russian officials made no public mention of the fact that Wolfowitz was chosen to lead the American delegation here, the diplomatic corps took note that the White House had sent to Moscow a senior official associated with formulating a harder line toward Russia.

But when he emerged from the Foreign Ministry yesterday, he stood silent as Stephen J. Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, made a brief statement.

"The fact that we are meeting and opening this dialogue is a sign of progress," Hadley said. "It is a first step in a consultation process which will continue over the weeks ahead and include discussions and consultations between our two presidents."

Last night, after the Wolfowitz group met with military leaders and departed for Washington, the Russian general staff issued a harsher statement, saying that Bush's initial approach to missile defense was "mistaken" and warning that a "unilateral withdrawal" by the United States from the 1972 Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty would incite a Russian response "to ensure the interests of its security and the security of its allies."

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