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Russia condemns US ‘Star Wars’

BBC News Online, Sunday 4 February 2001, 11:57 GMT

A senior Russian official has strongly attacked the US plan for a limited ballistic missile defence system, warning that it could trigger a new arms race.

Sergei Ivanov, Secretary of the Russian Security Council, reaffirmed his government's total opposition to the US defence shield (NMD), saying it would undermine the basis of global strategic stability.

He was speaking at an international security conference in Munich, a day after the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said President George W Bush was determined to go ahead with NMD.

The project was a "moral imperative" for any American president, Mr Rumsfeld said.

Mr Ivanov - a close aide to President Vladimir Putin - said Russia was ready to discuss "radical" arms cuts if Washington abandoned the missile plan.

He urged the US to stick to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, signed with the then Soviet Union.

Arms cuts

"The destruction of the ABM Treaty will result in the annihilation of the whole structure of strategic stability and create prerequisites for a new arms race, including one in outer space," Mr Ivanov said.

The ABM Treaty bans the sort of defences envisaged by the Bush team.

Mr Ivanov said that, if the treaty was maintained, Russia would be "ready for radical cuts - with the United States - of strategic offensive weapons to as few as 1,500 and even lower than this level".

In that case, Russia would be ready to start talks immediately with the United States on a new strategic arms reduction treaty, he said.

China also opposes the US missile defence plan, and many western European countries have considerable misgivings.

Studying Bush plans

The BBC's defence correspondent, Jonathan Marcus, says the Munich conference was not seen as the place for Russia to indicate any significant shift in policy on NMD.

He says Moscow is still trying to assess the Bush administration and to determine the shape of future Russian-US relations.

Mr Ivanov also reiterated Russia's opposition to Nato enlargement and accused the western alliance of creating an environmental disaster in the Balkans comparable to the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident.

He referred to Nato's use of depleted uranium weapons, which he said had spread ten tonnes of toxic dust.

'Rogue' states

Washington fears limited missile attacks from countries like Iran and Iraq, or even from individual terrorists. It insists that NMD would pose no threat to Russia.

Mr Ivanov rejected that view, arguing that "restraining the so-called rogue countries ... may be carried out more effectively, from the point of view of both expense and consequences, by means of common political effort".

"The situation with North Korea is the obvious example, because the situation a year ago seemed much worse than today," he added.

Mr Rumsfeld told the conference that the rest of the world had nothing to fear from NMD.

"These systems will be a threat to no one," he said. "That is a fact. They should be of concern to no one save those who would threaten others."