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American Forces Press Service

Gates Travels to Russia to Discuss Missile Defense

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

MOSCOW, April 23, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived here yesterday to meet with President Vladimir Putin and other top Russian security officials to discuss U.S. plans to base missile defense assets in Eastern Europe.

The United States, Europe and Russia face a common threat posed by such rogue nations as Iran and need to act cooperatively, a senior administration official traveling with the secretary said on background. Russian officials, however, have downplayed the threat from Iran and have expressed opposition to the plan, he noted.

Along with Putin, Gates is slated to meet with First Deputy Premier Sergey Ivanov, Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov. The secretary departed Washington yesterday afternoon, a day after returning from a five-day trip to Jordan, Egypt, Israel and Iraq.

Following President Bush’s decision in January to begin discussions on the missile defense plans, U.S. defense officials announced they were beginning bilateral negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic to host long-range ground-based interceptors and missile defense radar on their territories.

The plan calls for fielding 10 interceptors in Eastern Europe that would extend the zone of coverage for the potential long-range missile threat from Iran or others in the region, the administration official said. NATO’s missile defense program covers most of Europe for short- and medium-range systems, he added.

Deploying the system is a matter for political debate inside Poland and the Czech Republic, the administration official said, and will have to be approved by each nation’s parliament. U.S. officials welcome an informed debate and are prepared to ensure information is readily available, he said.

U.S. officials have been operating on the principle that U.S. and European defenses should be linked, as they have been in the past, he said. The second principle is to be transparent in the discussions by briefing NATO allies at the North Atlantic Council and the NATO-Russia Council.

Following his visit to Moscow, Gates will meet with officials in Warsaw, Poland, and in Germany, while other U.S. officials meet with senior leaders in the Czech Republic. U.S. officials want to keep the Europeans briefed on their discussions with Russia and vice versa, the administration official said.

Iranian missiles would traverse Russian territory before they reached Central Europe, much less the United States, the official said. U.S. officials want to try to make sure that all have an opportunity to be protected against that threat.

The planned system does not pose a threat to Russia’s nuclear deterrent or threaten Russia in any way, the official stressed. The interceptors are not nuclear-tipped, nor do they have an explosive warhead. They are purely “kinetic-kill” vehicles that destroy incoming missiles with the energy released by the high-speed impact as the two missiles hit one another, he said.

In Moscow last week, U.S. officials presented some suggestions on how the U.S. and Russia could cooperate on missile defense. They outlined a series of areas where the United States might be able to cooperate with Russia by sharing information and technology. This includes sharing sensor data for early warning, common research and development, and testing of various components of systems, the official said.

Last week at NATO, Russian officials made a presentation downplaying the threat from Iran and raising other concerns.

The official said he does not believe the Russians persuaded many of the allies there that either there was no threat or that the system would pose a threat to Russia. By and large, he said, the allies were very positive about the measures of cooperation that U.S. officials had proposed to the Russians.

The allies understand that there is a threat to which the allies must respond, the administration official said, and everyone agreed this is an issue that should not divide the alliance.

The allies encouraged the United States to persist with the effort, he said, and U.S. officials agreed because they believe it’s the right thing to do. Still, he noted, the discussions have just begun and there will be many more talks and presentations in the weeks and months to come.

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