(AFP) – Oct 12, 2007
MOSCOW (AFP) — The United States and Russia failed Friday to reach agreement on missile defence in talks that magnified their deep differences on a broad range of strategic issues.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected a Russian call to freeze plans for a US missile defense site in Eastern Europe despite a warning that Moscow would "neutralize" the threat of such a system.
Rice said "negotiations with our allies ... will continue" on deployment of the tracking radar and missile interceptors in the Czech Republic and Poland.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the project must be "frozen" and he warned that Moscow would "take measures to neutralise that threat" if it went ahead without taking into account its concerns.
"We would prefer to avoid such a scenario," he added.
Rice and US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates also met President Vladimir Putin at his country home outside Moscow in a bid to defuse mounting tensions between the two countries.
But Putin set an uncompromising tone for the talks here, highlighting Russia's problems with missile defence, a Cold War-era treaty that limits troops and tanks in Europe, and a similar accord that abolished US and Russian short- and medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe.
Putin warned that that Moscow could not continue to abide by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement unless it is expanded beyond the United States and Russia to include other neighboring nations.
"If we are unable to (reach) such a goal of making this treaty universal, then it will be difficult for us to keep within the framework of such a treaty, especially when other countries do have such weapons systems," Putin said.
He said, in what seemed to be a sardonic quip, that the two countries might "sometime in the future decide that some anti-missile defence system should be established somewhere on the moon."
But before that happens, he said, they should not "lose the opportunity of fixing some particular arrangements between us."
Kremlin deputy spokesman Dmitry Peskov said afterwards that Putin's comment about the moon was not intended to be sardonic but rather to underscore that "we'll be ready to do whatever is necessary" to counter any clear threat.
Lavrov said the two sides agreed to add the INF treaty to a growing list of issues that will be taken up six months from now in Washington when the US secretaries meet their Russian counterparts again.
He said a US counter-proposal to ward off a Russian threat to suspend its participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty on December 12 was a step in the right direction but not enough.
Washington describes the proposed missile shield as a limited system that could defend Europe against hypothetical future threats from Iran or North Korea. Gates said it "is not directed at Russia."
But Russia says its military capability would be blunted as a result and Putin warned earlier this year that he could order nuclear forces to target European cities if the deployment went ahead.
Gates said the US delegation "put some new ideas on the table," including ways to reassure the Russians that missile defence facilities in Eastern Europe pose no threat to its deterrent.
One idea was to deploy US and Russians at missile defence sites and radars in Europe, the United States and Russia, he said.
"We remain eager to be full and open partners with Russia on missile defence," he said. "If we succeed in working together it will mark a major strategic shift."
But Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said the proposed US site in Europe had "an anti-Russian character."
General Yevgeny Buzhinksy, who heads the Defence Ministry's department on international treaties, was defiant, saying Moscow would "not give any ground" on opposition to missile defence and its decision to abandon the CFE, state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported.
The two sides were also to raise Iran's nuclear programme, the status of Kosovo and proposals to renew the Cold War-era START strategic missile treaty.
"I know we don't always see eye to eye on every element of the solution to these issues," said Rice. "Nevertheless, I believe we will do this in a constructive spirit, that we will make progress during these talks and continue to pursue cooperation."
Adding to the sensitivity of the trip, which comes at a time of rancorous relations between an increasingly assertive Kremlin and a hawkish White House, Rice was to meet with human rights activists.
Domestic and foreign critics of Putin accuse him of dismantling post-Soviet democratic gains in the run-up to December parliamentary and March 2008 presidential elections.
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