That's fine by Moscow. "It's a gift for Putin," a Russian official says gleefully. The young Russian president has had mixed results with his international lobbying to derail the American defense plan. European governments are sympathetic; they're skeptical Clinton's son-of-Star Wars plan would work and, if it did, they worry their countries would be left out of the shield. But Putin has had egg on his face since a July trip to North Korea when he announced after a meeting with Kim Jong Il that the "Dear Leader" was open to scrapping his missile program in exchange for the West launching his space satellites. No North Korean missiles, no need for a national missile defense, the Russian president could argue. But later, a South Korean newspaper quoted Kim as saying that his offer to Putin had been a joke.
Kim's joke State Department officials are still checking with their North Korean contacts to see if he was serious or really trying to be funny made Putin look like a rookie diplomat. Now he can boast at home that he succeeded in convincing Clinton to delay a decision. The Russian and American presidents met in June and July, but announced no agreement on missile defenses. "This enables Putin to say that his firm stand on the ABM Treaty has been vindicated and that Clinton listened to his arguments," said the Russian official.
Not quite. White House aides say there were other reasons for Clinton deferring a deployment decision. "It's not just Putin," says a Clinton adviser. Besides worries over the technology, Clinton could not get a green light from European leaders. Clinton and Putin meet in New York on Tuesday at the United Nations Millennium Summit. But Clinton won't likely make any headway getting Putin to warm to national missile defense certainly not with the American president still undecided about its feasibility.