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U.S., Russian Defense Chiefs Meet, Avoid Missile Issue

June 15, 2007 -- U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates held a brief meeting today with his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, on the sidelines of a conference of NATO defense ministers, which ended today in Brussels.

Gates described the meeting as "cordial and businesslike," but expressed surprise that the issue of U.S. plans for a missile-defense system in Central Europe did not come up.

On June 14, Gates said the United States will proceed with its plan, and that it won't be replaced with Russia's proposal to use a joint radar station in Azerbaijan.

During the NATO conference, alliance Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told journalists that NATO will start studying the possibility of complementing the U.S. missile-defense system with its own defense systems.

'Top Priority'

Along with the proposed missile-defense plans, Afghanistan also figured high on the agenda of the NATO meeting.

The ministers agreed to ensure that NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) would do its best to avoid civilian casualties during its operations against insurgents in the country.

De Hoop Scheffer said Afghanistan remains the alliance's top priority. "Our presence in Afghanistan remains a key component of the international community's long-term commitment to support the government of Afghanistan, to bring peace, good governance, and accelerated reconstruction and development to its people," de Hoop Scheffer said.

He said NATO has made progress in Afghanistan in the past year, but that its efforts need to be further strengthened.

In its final statement today, the alliance also said that NATO troops based in Kosovo will deal with any civil disturbances or provocations while the UN Security Council considers the final status of the UN-administered Serbian province.

The alliance also agreed to widen its training mission in Iraq for Iraqi security forces.

(compiled from agency reports)

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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