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American Forces Press Service

Gates Announces Formation of U.S.-Russia Working Group on Missile Defense

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

MOSCOW, April 23, 2007 – The United States and Russia will form a working group of experts to discuss the proposed U.S. plan to base missile defenses in Eastern Europe, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced here today.

“The key to this is cooperation,” the secretary said. “We would like to have the Russians as partners in this process. We would like to share information with them. We’re prepared to collocate radars with them. We think there are some real opportunities here for both sides.”

Gates spoke with U.S. and Russian reporters following meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin, First Deputy Premier Sergey Ivanov at the Russian White House government building, and Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukovat the Ministry of Defense.

“A bilateral working group will address technical details and questions about the proposed sites and also Russian concerns that current proposed sites and designs might someday take on a different and larger form,” Gates said. “I believe the experts will both clear up any misunderstandings as well as address the Russians’ concerns.”

Gates said the Russians are fairly clear that the current design and the current plan for 10 interceptors are not a threat to Russia in any way. What U.S. officials need to address, however, is the Russians’ concern that “someday in the future, the character of these sites might change, and would become a greater concern in terms of Russia’s strategic security,” he said.

The secretary said he invited the Russians to inspect the U.S. interceptor site in Alaska and a radar site in California. Gates noted that this is in keeping with President Bush’s desire to approach this issue “transparently and cooperatively” with both the Russians and the Europeans.

From Moscow, Gates is slated to travel to Poland and Germany, where he will also discuss the missile defense plan.

U.S. officials want to deploy the missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic to deal with possible missile attack from rogue nations such as Iran. Gates said the Russians are “skeptical that the Iranians will have a ballistic missile that will have the range to hit targets in Western Europe in the foreseeable future.”

“My view is, and what I expressed to both Minister Serdyukov and President Putin, was that we have to look at this strategically and that we need to look 10 to 20 years out,” the secretary said. “Based on my own experience in the intelligence world, I would argue that (saying) countries in the Middle East might not have missiles with that kind of range or capability would be making a very risky assessment.”

At the start of his meetings with Putin and Serdyukov, Gates noted this was his first visit to Russia in 15 years and said he was impressed by the changes. Gates said he last visited Moscow in 1992 as the director of the CIA at the invitation of the head of Russia’s intelligence service to establish a new way forward after the end of the Cold War.

“We established a foundation for cooperation on counternarcotics, counterterrorism and nonproliferation, subjects which clearly still remain at the top of the agenda,” Gates said. “In the interval, a robust military-to-military relationship has developed, and there are opportunities for future cooperation as well as current issues between us.”

Russian and American relations are very important, Gates said and added that he looks forward to positively developing the relationship. While today’s meetings touched on a wide range of topics, he said, the primary focus was on missile defense.

While Putin expressed some of his concerns about the missile defense plan, Gates reported that Putin received him “very cordially.” The secretary said he felt very welcome and that the meeting had a very positive tone.

Gates said he expressed his appreciation for the invitation, noting this was the first visit to Russia by a U.S. defense secretary in six years.

“I felt we made some real headway in clearing up some misunderstandings about the technical characteristics of the system that are of concern to the Russians,” he said. “I would say I came away from the meetings cautiously optimistic.”

Although the Russian defense minister told reporters after his meeting with Gates that the Russians’ position on missile defense "remained basically unchanged,” Gates said he had the impression the minister’s statement was prepared before the meeting.

“I just felt there was a good atmosphere in the meeting,” he said. “And while we were waiting to meet with the press, there were a number of side conversations going on among the experts -- senior Russian military officers and our experts -- that I think even went beyond some of the discussions at the table.

“I don’t want to put words in their mouths, and I don’t want to characterize this more optimistically than perhaps is warranted,” he said, “but I felt this was a useful meeting, and I thought we made some headway.”

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