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UN correspondent Mark Devenport
"For now, the stand-off between the two sides continues"
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Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 03:55 GMT 04:55 UK
Russia resists US missile plan

Russia wants to maintain "fragile" arms control agreements
Russia has again voiced its strong opposition to any attempt by the US to develop an anti-missile defence system.

Foreign minister Igor Ivanov said any modification of the existing Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty would jeopardise future arms control agreements.

But later, he struck a more conciliatory tone, saying Moscow was ready to listen to suggestions from the US about how to ward off new strategic threats.

Our position is that our security will be better protected if the treaty is kept intact

Igor Ivanov

Mr Ivanov was speaking after a brief meeting at the White House with President Clinton.

He said Moscow remained convinced that existing arms control agreements should stand.

"Our position is that our security will be better protected if the treaty is kept intact," he told journalists.

Mr Ivanov was laying the groundwork for the first summit meeting between the American president and Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 4-5 June.

The BBC Washington correspondent says the two countries are as far apart as ever over the issue of anti-missile defence systems - but they have at least agreed to keep talking.

Nuclear arsenals

Earlier, Mr Ivanov made it clear that Russia would only support further cuts in the major powers' nuclear arsenals if the US abandoned its plan to create a new missile defence system.

Ivanov greeted at UN headquarters by Annan

In a speech to a conference on nuclear non-proliferation in New York, he warned that arms control was a fragile structure: the chance of an historic breakthrough would be lost if the Americans pursued their plan to construct a defensive missile shield.

"Once one of its key elements has been weakened, the entire system is destabilised," he said.

But if Washington decided against developing a defensive missile shield, Mr Ivanov said Moscow was prepared to support a joint limit of 1,500 nuclear warheads - about one-fifth of the current level.

Russia and the United States have already agreed to reduce their arsenals to between 2,000 and 2,500 by the year 2007.

Mr Ivanov was speaking a day after US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright defended the new National Missile Defence (NMD) policy, designed to prevent a missile attack by a "rogue" state.

Mrs Albright told the conference on Monday that NMD could be put in place with only minor amendments to the ABM treaty.

Washington is expected to decide whether or not to deploy it before the end of the year.

Middle-East tensions

Earlier, Egypt warned that the credibility of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in the Middle East was at risk as long as Israel continued to refuse to ratify it.

Egyptian envoy Ahmed Abu el-Gheit said the conference must be unequivocal in its demand that Israel accede to the treaty without further delay.

Israel has never admitted nuclear arms capability

Israel has never publicly acknowledged possessing nuclear weapons, and refuses to submit its nuclear facilities to inspection.

Israeli deputy defence minister Ephraim Sneh attacked Egypt over its condemnation of Israeli's stance, describing its efforts to get it to sign the treaty as antagonistic and unfriendly.

Exclusive club

In May 1995, non-nuclear states agreed to an indefinite extension of the 1970 NPT in exchange for a commitment from the five nuclear weapons states to negotiate "in good faith" towards nuclear disarmament.

Critics say the treaty maintains nuclear imbalance

As well as Israel, India, Pakistan and Cuba all refused to sign the NPT.

They regard the treaty as an attempt to set in stone the strategic superiority of the five major nuclear powers - the United States, Russia, the UK, France and China.

Under the treaty, only these five nations are permitted to possess nuclear weapons.

The other 182 signatories have renounced nuclear weapons for good.

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See also:

17 Aug 99 | Americas
How will US missile defence work?
14 Apr 00 | Europe
The effects of Start II
14 Jan 00 | Europe
Russia lowers nuclear threshold
14 Apr 00 | Europe
Treaty debate boost for Putin
14 Apr 00 | Europe
Start II ratification welcomed
22 Apr 00 | Europe
Russia toughens nuclear stance
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