The United States will push ahead with aggressive testing of missile defenses, White House officials said after U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin ended their summit without agreement on the disputed program.
"The timeline has not really changed," national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters after Bush bid his Russian counterpart a warm farewell Thursday at Bush's central Texas ranch.
"The president continues to believe that he has got to move forward with the testing program in a robust way, so that we can really begin to evaluate the potential for missile defenses," Rice said.
Putin, who went to New York, told National Public Radio later Thursday that, since he and Bush have a common goal of ensuring security, "We will, at the end of the day, be able to arrive at a solution that will be acceptable for everyone."
His Russian guests gone after three days of talks in Crawford and Washington, Bush and his wife, Laura, settled in for a long, quiet weekend on their remote ranch.
Already, there were active discussions about when Bush would make a reciprocal visit to Russia. Aides expect a springtime trip.
"Given that I'm from Texas and kind of like the warm weather, I was hoping to wait a couple of months," Bush joked Thursday at the final joint appearance of Putin's four-day visit to the United States.
Putin reaffirmed his opposition to testing any kind of a weapons system that could intercept missiles aimed at the United States and its allies. Such tests would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty as it is currently interpreted.
Putin also said that, no matter what Bush does, "Under no circumstances could it lead to any tension in the relations between Russia and the United States."
U.S. officials said they viewed the remark as a signal that Putin won't try to stand in the way of coming missile tests. That understanding, however, fell far short of a formal deal to make the ABM flexible enough to allow testing, which had been Bush's hope for the summit.
Distracted by the war against terrorism, both leaders seemed to push the issue down the road.
"We shall continue our discussions," Putin said.
Aides said Bush's trip to Moscow next year might offer a fitting setting to resolve the ABM debate.
A provision in the treaty permits either party to withdraw on six months' notice. Already, the Pentagon, as recently as last month, postponed parts of missile-shield testing that might violate the Cold War-era treaty with the Soviet Union.
The Bush administration, eyeing the schedule for future testing, knows negotiations now are running out of time.
"I think that everybody, including the Russians, understands that we're soon going to run up against certain constraints of the treaty," Rice said.
In the meantime, both sides committed to continued talks.
"No particular `kaboom' breakthrough is to be expected at any particular time, but they are continuing to wok the issue," Rice said.
"And we'll see how long we can go before we have to actually begin the testing and development program."
On the separate issue of reducing Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear stockpiles, which both presidents promised after their Tuesday meetings at the White House, Putin said Thursday the question of whether warheads should be disarmed or destroyed must be decided in negotiations.
Bush countered: "We are talking about reducing and destroying the number of warheads."
Rice later used wording that suggested Bush should not have spoken so definitively. "We are in the process right now of examining precisely how this drawdown takes place," she told reporters.
By SANDRA SOBIERAJ
©MMI The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed