Meeting of RF President Vladimir Putin with Chief Correspondents of the Moscow Bureaus of The Leading US Mass Media
Question: Mr. President, previously, presenting your position on ABM issues, you said that now it was more flexible than before. Could you specify in what aspects this position has become more flexible? Among other things, does it involve the possibility of the United States setting in place ABM systems in Alaska? And if this is indeed so, could you explain in what way is your position now more flexible compared to what it was before?
Putin: I don't think I will disclose a big secret if I say what I also told President Bush during our recent meeting in Shanghai. I told him that our position was indeed much more rigid, especially when we conducted a dialogue with the previous administration. I will repeat that thesis and tell you with absolute frankness: indeed, this was so because we proceeded, among other things, from the assumption that we would conduct the dialogue in earnest with the man who would be in the White House for the coming four years or maybe eight years.
It is very pleasant for us and it is very pleasant for me that the man turned out to be President Bush with whom we have developed a very good personal relationship. And today we say: we are prepared to discuss the parameters of the 1972 ABM Treaty. But for this we must get a "probing" statement of the position from our US partners: what do they specifically propose to change? What specifically hinders the implementation of the program which was conceived by the US administration?
In addition, we say, and in my conversations with the US President I stressed it that we deem it correct to consider the defensive systems together with the offensive arms, i.e. these are the two sides of one coin. And it is very gratifying for us to note that our links today are characterized not only by good personal relations of the two presidents but also by a desire to agree to compromises. And today we know the proposals of the President and his opinion that the offensive weapons can and must be cut. This is already a certain compromise, a compromise in the right direction.
All politics is the art of compromises. We are also prepared for compromises. The question only is what we shall be offered for discussion and what compromises are expected from us. We must see this in the concrete proposals of our American partners. This is already to be decided by specialists: lawyers, military specialists and diplomats. And after the options have been presented, it will be up to the political leadership only to make the choice between the different options drafted. And I feel great optimism that the options can be found.
Question: Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov not long ago said that he in general agrees that the ABM defense now is not an untouchable instrument and that one could think about reviewing it.
Do you not believe in this connection that the ABM Treaty has indeed become obsolete? How would you comment, say, this change of position on the part of Sergei Ivanov, compared to what was said earlier -- several months and several years ago -- about the ABM Treaty being a cornerstone of the entire security system?
And the second part of the question. It is regarding the agreements that you hope to reach with President Bush during your stay in the US next week: will it be some formal agreement or you will say that you have agreed on everything?
Putin: Concerning defining the 1972 ABM Treaty as a treaty which is the cornerstone of international security, we now think exactly that. What is the basis for this thesis? The basis is that a whole system of other agreements in the sphere of international security is linked to this ABM Treaty. In this sense, Ivanov's position has not changed at all. I assure you that I know it very well. It is true that we have many Ivanovs, but the position has not changed with the other one either. This does not mean, however, that we do not acknowledge the justified concern of the US administration over the future system of international security.
President Bush agreed that the offensive and defensive systems can be considered together. He did more. He now states the US readiness to cut down on offensive weapons. For our part, we are prepared to examine the problems that the US faces in developing its ABM defense, but I repeat that for this we must get the "request" position in the military and technical meaning of the word from our US partners, and so far there is none.
This is to say that we see that the US administration is capable of reaching agreement and we ourselves are prepared to demonstrate this capability to reach agreement, only we have to understand what they wish from us in the military and technical meaning of the word.
As regards specific agreements, we have different proposals over what results we could reach with President Bush. But, if you allow me, I would wish first to tell him this in person, not through your newspaper, although I very much respect it.