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Russia calls for broader talks on U.S. missile shield - FM

RIA Novosti

29/03/2007 15:14 MOSCOW, March 29 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's foreign minister called Thursday for broader consultations on the deployment of elements of the U.S. missile defense system in Central Europe.

Washington has announced its intention to deploy elements of its missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, citing possible threats from Iran or North Korea as a reason for the program, and will soon begin consultations with these countries.

"I believe this [missile shield] issue is so important for all Europeans that the relevant discussions should be conducted in a broader context," Sergei Lavrov told a news conference after talks with the Portuguese foreign minister in Moscow.

The minister said he hoped that broader talks will start next month at a Russia-NATO Council session.

"It is important that the political will, demonstrated by U.S. President George Bush in yesterday's telephone conversation with President Putin, will receive a practical implementation during these consultations," Lavrov said.

On Wednesday U.S. and Russian Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin discussed the issue on the phone, with President Bush saying that his country was ready to discuss in detail U.S. plans.

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, also called Thursday for broader talks on the issue saying that EU states should be involved.

He said the EU is not a defense alliance or a decision-making platform for defense issues, but suggested it would be useful to think about and discuss the subject in an open and transparent manner.

He also said EU sovereignty should be in harmony with its security interests, and urged all EU countries to state their positions on the issue in the context of the union.

On Wednesday, the Czech government confirmed that it will begin official talks with the U.S. on the deployment of the system on its territory. The negotiations which will start as soon as possible will last through to the end of 2007.

Russia sees the prospective deployment as a threat to its own national security, and fears the base may trigger a new arms race.

U.S. plans to deploy elements of the missile shield in Central Europe are expected to cost $1.6 billion over the next five years. The program will later be expanded to include sea-based missiles and space-based missile tracking systems.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Brian Green was saddened by Russia's refusal to accept the missile shield, but promised to inform Moscow about progress in the program and to look into opportunities for future cooperation on the issue.

Some European Union officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have called on the U.S. to harmonize its missile defense program with NATO.

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