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Putin warns U.S. against rushing missile deals with Europe

RIA Novosti

12/10/2007 13:11 (Adds background in paras 2, 4, quote in para 5, Rice and Gates' comments in paras 6-8)

MOSCOW, October 12 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's president said he hoped the U.S. would not rush to finalize missile defense agreements with Europe until talks with Russia were over.

Russian and U.S. foreign and defense ministers are to meet on Friday to discuss U.S. plans to deploy elements of its missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic to counter possible threats from "rogue states" such as Iran or North Korea.

"In the course of these complicated talks we are counting on you not to rush to fulfill your previous agreements with Central European states," Vladimir Putin said to Russian and U.S. ministers ahead of consultations.

Moscow has opposed the U.S. plans, saying they jeopardize Russia's national security, and proposed jointly using an alternative site in Azerbaijan.

"We may some day decide that missile defense systems can be placed on the Moon, but by the time that day comes we might have already lost any chance of reaching an agreement due to ... our own [military] plans," Putin said.

The U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed optimism about the talks, and said that Washington would work to overcome differences with Russia. She said the two countries faced challenges that were more important that their differences.

In further remarks, Putin said he hoped Russian-U.S. military exercises would become common practice. "I hope they will be continued," he said, adding that the defense minister dialogue established almost two years ago would also hopefully be maintained.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates shared Putin's hopes, adding that the countries faced an ambitious security agenda, including Iran's efforts to develop missile systems.

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