Foreign Minister: Russia Prepared to Discuss New Strategic Relations With U.S.

Russia hinted again on Monday it might be ready to discuss changes in the key Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty which bans the Bush administration's plans to build a defense shield against incoming missiles.

Two days before he leaves for Washington to meet with Secretary of State Colin Powell, Russia's foreign minister said Moscow was ready to talk about "new parameters" on strategic questions.

"The situation in the world is changing, and our relations with the United States are changing. In the framework of these changes we are ready to discuss new parameters of strategic cooperation," Russian news agencies quoted Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov as saying late Monday night.

Ivanov is scheduled to leave Wednesday for Washington to meet with Powell as part of a series of consultations with U.S. officials on strategic issues including nuclear weapons cuts and the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Ivanov said that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty "remains a key element of preserving strategic stability in the world" and emphasized that it should remain in full force while Russia's consultations with the United States continue.

"While this discussion is happening, we believe that the ABM treaty should continue fulfilling the important mission that it has been fulfilling until now," the ITAR-Tass and Interfax agencies quoted him as saying after a meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique.

His comments appeared to indicate Russia could be more flexible in the future on the ABM treaty, a key thorn in relations with the United States in recent years.

Ivanov's remarks came after U.S. defense officials said Thursday they were delaying three missile tracking tests that might have been interpreted as violating the treaty, the first time Washington has allowed concerns about the accord to slow its missile defense project.

The move was seen as a gesture to the Russians that would give President Bush room to maneuver during meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Washington and Texas Nov. 12-15.

U.S. officials have said the leaders could reach a landmark agreement at their summit on the American missile defense plans and on slashing both countries' nuclear arsenals.

The Bush administration says the United States needs a defense against long-range ballistic missiles and has said it may withdraw from the ABM treaty in order to create one. Russia says abandoning the accord would prompt a new arms race.

An agreement could come as amendments to the treaty that would allow for testing that the United States wants to conduct.

Ivanov would not comment on a possible agreement. But he said it is in Moscow's interests that Putin's visit "strengthens the positive tendencies that have been observed in Russian-American relations recently," ITAR-Tass and Interfax said.

Putin's support for the U.S.-led anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan has given a powerful boost to relations.