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Room For Compromise

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to President Mr. Bush by telephone Thursday about the upcoming U.S.-Russian summit and cooperation in Afghanistan, the presidential press service said.

The report provided no details of the conversation, other than saying they discussed U.S.-Russian cooperation in operations in Afghanistan. They meet next week in Washington and at Mr. Bush's ranch in Texas where it is hoped the two men can narrow differences on arms control and trade issues as they move ever closer in the fight against terrorism.

Putin has supported U.S. airstrikes against the ruling Taliban, which is sheltering Islamic fundamentalist Osama Bin Laden, the accused mastermind of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the United States.

In a U.S. television interview, Putin indicated a new flexibility in Russia's approach to U.S. plans to develop a national missile defense shield, saying it might not violate the
Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty that Moscow has pledged to preserve.

"You know, first of all, that the 1972 treaty already has certain possibilities for creating defensive systems," Putin said in an ABC television interview broadcast in the United States on Wednesday and replayed in part in Russia on Thursday. "It also has other provisions according to which we can find common approaches."

"In any case, experts are certain that, guided by these approaches, we can fully formulate the conditions (for the systems) in the framework of the current treaty, without violating its essence," Putin said, according to a transcript issued by the Kremlin press service.

The statement was the clearest signal yet that Moscow was prepared to abandon its initial position that testing of a new missile defense system would violate the ABM Treaty.

The treaty bans nationwide missile defenses on the premise that neither country would strike first if it were unable to protect itself from retaliation - the principle of mutually assured destruction that was a foundation of the two nations' Cold War strategy.

Mr. Bush and other officials have said they want the United States to withdraw from the treaty, because it would constrain the government from pursuing a defense against missile threats from such countries as North Korea and Iran. But Putin's team has argued that dumping the treaty would unravel the web of arms control treaties that have provided for strategic stability.

Putin's staunch support for Mr. Bush's war on terrorism in the wake of the September 11 hijacked airliner attacks on the United States could also mark a watershed in relations.

© MMI, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters Limited contributed to this report

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