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American Forces Press Service

Gates 'Puzzled' By Russian Response to U.S. Missile Defense Plans

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

PARIS, June 5, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today that he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “are both puzzled by what the Russians are doing” in response to U.S. plans to build missile defense sites in Eastern Europe.

Speaking at a joint news conference with French Defense Minister Herve Morin, Gates said the two leaders had discussed the issue, including “some of the public statements coming out of Russia recently, especially by President (Vladimir) Putin.”

Putin, who has accused the United States of trying to start an arms race, ordered test-firing of new missiles this week.

For the first time in history, the leaders of the U.S. State and Defense departments both have doctorates in Russian studies -- and both are baffled by Russia’s activities, Gates noted today.

“I think it is important to be flexible in addressing their concerns on a number of different issues,” he said. “At the same time, we should not be in the position of allowing them to obstruct further progress in a number of areas.

“But above all,” he said, “we would prefer that they partner with us and be allies in pursuing a number of these initiatives.”

Morin declined to state France’s specific position on the missile issue, but said it’s in nobody’s interest to “create conditions that recall older times.” He emphasized the need for “constructive dialog with our Russian friends.”

During a June 3 question-and-answer session at the Asian Security Summit in Singapore, Gates emphasized that the missile defenses in question wouldn’t be technically advanced enough to threaten Russia. Rather, he said, they would be designed to counter rogue countries or terrorist groups.

“In neither case is the ballistic missile defense aimed at weakening the deterrent of either China or Russia,” he said.

Gates said the United States will explore “anything we can do to provide transparency on that point and help people understand the capabilities (and) characteristics of the system.”

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