WASHINGTON – Heading for Moscow, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Friday said a U.S. defense against missiles can be deployed without breaking a 1972 treaty.
"We will deploy a missile defense, and that can be done with the treaty still in place," Rumsfeld said en route to the Russian capital.
In Moscow, he will talk to his counterpart, Sergei Ivanov, about the war against terrorism in Afghanistan, "the overall relationship with Russia" and missile defense.
Rumsfeld said final decisions on two or three missile defend parts of missile-shield tests that might violate the Cold War-era treaty with the Soviet Union. That treaty prohibited a national missile defense.
Bush has called the accord a relic. Other administration officials have said the President at some point would exercise his right under the treaty to withdraw from it.
A U.S. missile defense that does not violate the treaty would be a limited one.
But the administration's eagerness to get started has been enhanced with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. A shield is seen by senior officials as a protection not only against rogue states but also terrorist groups like the al-Qaida network.
Bush's talks with Putin also might lead to sharp reductions by as much as two-thirds in U.S. and Russian levels of strategic warheads. About 6,000 are held by each country.
Bush has said a decision on how much to trim the U.S. arsenal would be based on a U.S. strategic judgment. The Pentagon is completing its study of strategic needs.
Even so, White House officials said Friday that Bush would like to be able to declare how far-reaching the U.S. cuts would be if Putin was willing to make a similar statement of Russia's cutback intentions.
Any pledges on that front by the two leaders would not be made in the form of a treaty, which Bush has said takes too long to negotiate and needs Senate approval, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Nor will Bush insist that reductions in U.S. and Russian stockpiles be equivalent, the officials said.
On a more troubled front, the Bush administration is hoping the talks with Putin will produce an agreement for Russia to curb the sale of advanced technology and weapons to Iran.
Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton, who is accompanying Rumsfeld on the trip, told reporters this week he was very concerned about the transfers and possible links to terrorism.
Iran is one of seven countries designated as a supporter of terrorism by the State Department.
Bush also would like to report to Putin that the 1974 Jackson-Vanik legislation that required Russia to permit Jews to emigrate is being repealed by Congress, which is discussing the measure.
The law, which granted Russia U.S. trade privileges, is a mostly symbolic piece of legislation. The Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, and U.S. presidents have given Russia trade rights based on substantial Jewish emigration over the years.
Rumsfeld plans to go from Russia to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, two former Soviet republics that have borders with Afghanistan. He also plans to visit Pakistan and India.