The United States and Russia are to open talks in Moscow today on two key disarmament treaties - START III and the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty - but opposition in the legislatures of both countries remains an obstacle to reducing overall nuclear-weapons levels.
The ABM talks will be the first on a U.S. request to modify the existing treaty, which bans construction of anti-missile defenses to allow the United States to protect itself from missile attacks by countries such as North Korea.
"We'll begin discussions in Moscow on getting the Russians to accept a U.S. national missile defense," a State Department official said.
At the Group of Eight summit in June at Cologne, Germany, "the Russians agreed we could start talks on adapting the ABM treaty, which means to us, `how to respond to a rogue-state threat.' " the official said.
President Clinton signed legislation last month making it U.S. policy to deploy a national missile defense as soon as the technology is available.
However, in a statement issued upon signing the legislation, the president said he would only order deployment of a missile defense after gauging how the system would affect "our objectives with regard to achieving further reductions in strategic nuclear arms under START II and START III."
The ABM treaty prohibits deployment of missile defenses that protect the entire territory. It allows a single site to be built to protect the capital, or an offensive missile field. Russia's missile defense is deployed around Moscow; the United States abandoned its missile defense in North Dakota in the 1970s.
The talks are to be led on the U.S. side by John Holum, last chief of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, which was folded into the State Department in April as part of the reorganization of the foreign affairs agencies.
Mr. Holum has been nominated to be undersecretary of state for arms …