Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is heading to Moscow on Monday for meetings the Bush administration is hoping will be the first step toward repealing the anti-ballistic missile treaty and moving forward with the President’s missile defense program.
The meetings, which the White House is calling "consultations," follow a week of meetings between a Russian military delegation and U.S. officials at the Pentagon. Though the Moscow talks are expected to include discussions of military cooperation and a reduction in offensive forces, the dialogue has bolstered the administration’s confidence that a deal can be reached to revise the 1972 ABM treaty.
Rumsfeld said a new treaty would not be needed.
"Treaties are between nations that are hostile, frequently, and this treaty was between two countries that had thousands of thousands of weapons aimed at each other," Rumsfeld said. "Arms control treaties are not for friends."
The ABM treaty prohibits Bush’s missile defense plan. The administration’s determination to move forward with the program has Russia eager to leverage the treaty as a bargaining tool to trade for U.S. economic assistance and other gains. The Bush administration has not made clear what the new relationship between the two nations would be.
Jon Wolfsthal of the Carnegie Institute said that the Russians are looking to be integrated into the World Trade Organization, among other issues, but that the U.S. wants Russia to agree to disbanding the ABM first.
"What the Bush administration is saying is, well let's talk nuclear weapons first. We want missile defenses. You give us that and then we will talk on these other issues and I think it's putting the cart before the horse," said Wolfsthal.
A major sticking point in the negotiations could be arms control. Russia has already pledged to reduce its nuclear arms stockpiles, and the White House is considering further reductions on both sides. Washington does not want to jeopardize arms control, but missile defense remains a top Bush priority—a fact Rumsfeld is expected to underscore in Moscow.
"The Bush administration is every eager to push ahead on missile defenses and has no incentive to delay," Wolfsthal said. "They have said that if the choice comes up between pursuing missile defenses and preserving the ABM treaty, they are prepared to dump the treaty."
Fox News' David Shuster contributed to this report.