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Cohen Cautious on Russian Proposal

June 8, 2000

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen says a Russian proposal for a joint NATO-European anti-missile defense plan could be genuine or just an effort to split the western alliance.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who opposes Washington’s plan for a limited missile defense system, has proposed working with NATO and Europe on a joint anti-missile defense system, but has yet to offer any details.

``There’s a lot of vagueness involved in his proposal ... and they have yet to become clear,″ Cohen told reporters Wednesday during his flight to Brussels for a NATO defense ministers’ meeting.

``It could be a constructive proposal, but it could be simply a tactic to divide the European members of NATO from the United States. I think there has been an attempt over the last year or two to divide the Europeans from NATO.″

The United States has spent much of the past year explaining the national missile defense system _ a small number of interceptor missiles that could shoot down missiles launched by what Washington describes as rogue nations. Many of the allies remain skeptical, especially over how such a system would affect the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed with Russia.

``We’ve made some headway with our allies, who I think were initially either doubtful, skeptical or less enthusiastic about it, but based on my presentations to them, many changed their mind,″ Cohen said.

Washington says these so-called rogue nations, such as North Korea, could have long-range missiles ready to launch by 2005.

The United States wants to amend the ABM treaty to allow for the proposed national missile defense system. Russia first adamantly opposed touching the treaty, but during the U.S.-Russia summit last week appeared to soften.

Cohen said Russia now recognizes a real threat exists, but that Russia must be persuaded that it would not be threatened by the proposed system.

Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev will be in Brussels on Friday for a NATO meeting. The allies hope he will provide more details on Putin’s proposal.

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