SLUG: 2-270555 U-S/Russia/Missiles (L-only) DATE: NOTE NUMBER:









INTRO: The United States and Russia have signed an agreement aimed at preventing retaliation by one side in the event of an accidental missile launch by the other. V-O-A correspondent Roger Wilkison reports from Brussels that the accord updates a previous agreement that improves safeguards against the inadvertent launch of nuclear missiles.

TEXT: U-S Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov hailed the new agreement as a step toward greater strategic stability between the world's two biggest nuclear powers. They also invited other nations to join the pact, which establishes a pre- and a post-launch notification system for ballistic missiles as well as space vehicles.

The previous U-S-Russian accord, signed last year in Moscow by presidents Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin, set up an early warning system, but only for accidental launches of nuclear missiles. The new pact is more inclusive.

Cooperation on preventing accidental missile launches was begun by both sides after Norway launched a harmless weather rocket in 1995 that was mistaken by Russia as a NATO missile. It was determined at the time that the Russian Foreign Ministry, which had been notified by the Norwegians of the launch, failed to pass the information on to the Russian Defense Ministry.

The new pact also calls for the expansion of a joint warning center set up in Moscow after the Clinton-Putin accord. And it provides for voluntary notification whenever a satellite is forced out of orbit or when an experiment is conducted in space that could affect the operation of early warning radars.

The signing of the agreement came during what could be the last face-to-face meeting between Ms. Albright and her Russian counterpart. Ms. Albright leaves office next month when the Clinton administration makes way for that of President-elect George W. Bush.

Ms. Albright and Mr. Ivanov took advantage of the occasion to discuss such questions as the situation in the Balkans, Russian arms sales to Iran and cooperation between Russia and NATO. On Thursday, Mr. Ivanov refused to sign a long-delayed deal to re-open a NATO office in Moscow after NATO ministers criticized Moscow over the Russian army's shooting of civilians in Chechnya. (Signed)