MOSCOW — Russian leaders dug in their heels Monday in talks with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, rejecting his suggestion that the two countries abandon the 1972 treaty that precludes U.S. development of a missile defense system.
"The existing, multilayered system of strategic security that exists in the world today fully meets Russian needs," Defense Minister Sergei B. Ivanov said.
The Bush administration is actively pursuing a missile defense and plans to withdraw from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty in coming months.
Rumsfeld came to Moscow for a day as part of "consultations" designed to allay Russian fears. The Russians argue that scrapping the treaty would remove the foundation of the current, stable arms control system and fail to put anything reliable in its place.
"If one tries to explain it in common parlance, one could recall the emblem of a famous organization in Russia where a shield and a sword were depicted," Ivanov said, referring to the KGB. "Up to now, we have lived without a shield, only with swords. Now, upon the initiative of the U.S. side--I would like to stress that--the notion of the shield is introduced. Naturally, it changes the entire configuration."
In Genoa, Italy, last month, President Bush and Russian President Vladimir V. Putin agreed that talks about defensive weapons such as the proposed national missile shield were to be linked to reductions in offensive strategic arsenals.
Russian leaders are eager to negotiate new, lower missile ceilings. But Russian officials complained Monday that Rumsfeld had arrived without concrete proposals along those lines.
"It is important for us to get answers to several questions," Putin said as he opened a Kremlin meeting with Rumsfeld. "Among them are thresholds of armaments reductions [and] timing of reductions, as well as measures of control, trust and transparency."
Rumsfeld replied that he is conducting a thorough review of U.S. nuclear policy and will be able to talk specific numbers only when it is complete.
"We have been reviewing every aspect of the program," he said. "I suspect we will come to a point where I will be able to make a recommendation to the president in the next month or two, at which point we'll have a number. If anyone thinks it's been an intentional delay, they're wrong."
At least in public, the two sides seemed often to be talking past each other.
Rumsfeld concentrated on describing the ABM treaty as an example of outmoded "Cold War thinking."
"The cold, hard truth is that when I go to bed at night, I do not worry about the Soviet Union attacking NATO. I just don't," Rumsfeld told an audience of academics and opinion makers. "I don't worry about a strategic nuclear exchange between the United States and the old Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is gone."
Rumsfeld said the United States doesn't need a network of treaties to regulate relations with friendly countries and that Russia is no longer an enemy. He suggested that Russia's problem with the idea of a missile shield amounts to simple suspicion.
"The short answer is we need to get over [the Cold War]," Rumsfeld said. "To the extent that suspicion, however misplaced, persists, then we ought to be able to find ways to demystify that and to reduce those suspicions."
But a Defense Ministry spokesman, Lt. Gen. Anatoly Mazurkevich, suggested that Rumsfeld's emphasis was misplaced.
"We understand, of course, that we live in an era after the Cold War and are ready to agree with our American colleagues that the existing system of agreements on strategic stability will have to be amended," he said. "We are willing to do this, but only on one condition: The ABM treaty must not be touched."
Rumsfeld emphasized that a U.S. missile defense would be designed to ward off attacks by so-called rogue states and that at most it could shoot down "handfuls" of incoming missiles. Since Russia has thousands of nuclear missiles, a missile defense would be useless against Russia and could not be considered a threat to the country, he said.
One Russian academic said he was willing to bet a bottle of whiskey that one of the next two U.S. tests of missile defense technology will fail.
"I don't have any idea how many future tests will fail," Rumsfeld said. "Having been in the pharmaceutical business and investing a lot of money in research and development, I know that failures are not losses. Failures are a learning process."