United States, Russia remain far apart on missile defense after tense talks in Moscow
Saturday, October 13, 2007
MOSCOW -- High-level talks Friday between the United States and Russia failed to bridge major differences over U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe and a range of strategic arms issues.
After a series of tense meetings that began with a blunt rebuff from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates appeared to have been unable to turn around Moscow's opposition to missile defense.
Rice and Gates brought several new detailed proposals to the table meant to ease Russian concerns that the system would be aimed at Moscow, but the pair was unable to convince Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov or Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.
"We see two serious problems with these proposals," Lavrov told reporters at a four-way news conference following the talks.
He said the two sides still disagree about the nature of the missile threat to Europe and that the Bush administration refuses to freeze its deployment plans while the issue is discussed.
"There is no agreement on this," Lavrov said. He said that while the initial U.S. plan to place elements of the system in Poland and the Czech Republic were small, it could grow to become a threat to Russia's deterrent force. "There is a potential threat for us here."
"The principal thing to which we did not agree today is the deployment of anti-missile elements which have an anti-Russian character and which are to be placed in Europe," he said.
Rice said the ideas that she and Gates presented are "conceptual at this point" and would be handed to experts to consider further. The two sides plan to meet again in Washington in about six months.
"I know that we don't always see eye-to-eye on every element of the solutions to these issues, nonetheless, I believe we will do this in a constructive spirit, that we will make progress during these talks as we continue to pursue cooperation," Rice said.
Gates said that one idea is to have Russian personnel stationed at each missile defense site to improve coordination and openness with Moscow.
Neither Lavrov nor Serdyukov appeared impressed with the suggestion.
The day got off to a rocky start with Putin warning Washington to back off European missile defense, which he appeared to mock, or risk harming relations with Moscow. He also threatened to pull out of a Cold War-era treaty limiting intermediate-range missiles unless it is expanded.
"We may decide someday to put missile defense systems on the moon, but before we get to that we may lose a chance for agreement because of you implementing your own plans," he told Rice and Gates in Russian, according to an Associated Press translation.
He also urged the Bush administration not to force its plans on countries in Eastern Europe.
"We hope that in the process of such complex and multifaceted talks you will not be forcing forward your previous agreements with eastern European countries," the president said.
The Pentagon plans to install 10 missile interceptors in Poland, linked to a missile tracking radar in the Czech Republic. The Pentagon says the system will provide some protection in Europe and beyond for long-range missiles launched from Iran, but Russia believes the system is a step toward undermining the deterrent value of its nuclear arsenal.
Russia sees the U.S. missile defense plan, which Washington describes as a hedge against the threat of missile attack from Iran, as a worrisome step toward weakening Russian security. It has been a long-standing dispute, and Putin's remarks seemed to raise the level of tensions.
After keeping Rice and Gates waiting for 40 minutes, Putin began the session with a lengthy monologue in which he also said Russia might abandon its obligations under a 1987 missile treaty with the United States if it is not expanded to constrain other missile-armed countries.
Referring to the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty that was negotiated with the United States before the breakup of the Soviet Union, Putin said it must be applied to other countries, but did not mention any by name.
"If we are unable to obtain such a goal ... it will be difficult for us to keep within the framework of the treaty in a situation where other countries do develop such weapon systems, and among those are countries located in our near vicinity," he said.
The pact eliminated the deployment of Soviet and American ballistic missiles of intermediate range and was a landmark step in arms control just two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and later the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Rice and Gates appeared surprised by Putin's suggestion, but officials said later it would be added to the agenda of the so-called "two plus two" group of Russian and U.S. foreign and defense ministers.
"We have an ambitious agenda of security issues that concern both of us, including, as you suggest, development of missile systems by others in the neighborhood -- I would say in particular, Iran," Gates said.
Putin has also threatened to suspend Russian adherence to another arms control treaty, known as the Conventional Forces in Europe pact, which limits deployments of conventional military forces. Moscow wants it to be revised in ways that thus far have been unacceptable to U.S. and European signatories.
Shortly before the talks with Putin began, Lavrov strolled into the house's billiards room, where American reporters had gathered, for a cigarette break. He was asked whether he expected any breakthroughs in the talks.
"Breaks, definitely. Through or down, I don't know," he said.