U.S. and Russian negotiators searched yesterday for a new arms-control deal that would keep existing treaties intact, permit construction of a national missile defense (NMD) and overcome opposition in the Senate.
The effort followed a warning on Wednesday by Sen. Jesse Helms, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, that any new arms treaty would be rejected by the Senate.
"I disagree with Sen. Helms," said Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright after meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.
"I don't think we can take a pause with threats to the U.S. national interest," she told reporters at the State Department yesterday.
Asked if the Clinton administration might try to carry out plans to develop and deploy a limited 100-missile shield based in Alaska without Senate approval, Mrs. Albright was vague.
"Obviously, we want support [for the NMD] and we will be involved in discussions," to overcome opposition by Mr. Helms and other Republicans in Congress, Mrs. Albright said.
The 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty represents the main obstacle to a missile defense because it limits the United States to developing one anti-missile site to protect its capital.
The treaty was interpreted in 1997 to allow building as many as 100 interceptors - a view that Russia has hinted it may be willing to accept.
"I think the American people want us to end some of the problems left over from the Cold War . . . I think we are following what the American people want," Mrs. Albright said.
Mr. Helms wants the United States to abandon the ABM Treaty, which bars Russia and the United States from building a national anti-missile shield.
The logic behind the ABM pact was that peace was secure because each side was threatened with mutually assured destruction. ABM supporters at the time feared that a missile defense would destabilize that balance.