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U.S., Russians hold talks

Defense teams look at ways to battle terrorism together

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WASHINGTON — A Russian military delegation is holding two days of talks with top Pentagon officials on cooperating against new terrorism threats and creating a new military relationship overall.

The two sides will look for ways to shield themselves against a terrorist attack, especially from so-called rogue states, a senior Bush administration official told The Associated Press.

On the agenda are prospective joint military exercises with the American and Russian troops, based on the concept that the United States and Russia have long ceased being adversaries and are now friends, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Still, there are areas of difference, including Russian technology sales to Iran, the official said. Iran is believed to be engaged in a program to develop nuclear weapons and American officials fear that Russian technology could give the program a boost.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks heightened Russia's interest in countering terrorism and cooperating with the United States against it, the official said.

The two countries are not in a hostile relationship and have met several times in Washington and Moscow since the onset of the Bush administration a year ago to plot joint efforts. The official said Russia clearly was interested in working with the United States on joint improvements in security that could produce an understanding when President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold talks next spring in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Last week another senior U.S. official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States would be willing to help Russia in an anti-missile venture and provide technology for such a program.

The Bush administration is embarked on an ambitious program to develop a shield against a missile attack from such states as Iran and North Korea, as well as terrorist cells, and Bush is withdrawing the United States from a 1972 treaty with Moscow that barred the kind of missile defense tests now in the offing.

At the same time the two sides are committed to major reductions in the arsenals of strategic offensive nuclear weapons.

At their November meetings in Washington and in Texas, Bush pledged to cut back to 1,700 to 2,200 long-range warheads from the current U.S. level of about 7,000. Putin said Russia, which has about 6,000 strategic warheads, would respond in kind.

However, the Russian leader suggested that mutual reductions be incorporated into a treaty. Bush, who has voiced skepticism about such binding agreements, did not go along with that suggestion.

But since their meetings, senior U.S. officials have expressed a willingness to "put something on paper" if Russia insisted on it.

The Russian delegation is headed by Col. Gen. Yuri Baluyevsky, the No. 2 official in the Russian military establishment. Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, heads the U.S. group.