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U.S. needs Europe missile shield but will view Putin offer -Rice

RIA Novosti

12/10/2007 11:18 WASHINGTON, October 12 (RIA Novosti) - The United States secretary of state said Washington needs to pursue a missile shield in Central Europe but is willing to consider other potential locations as well.

After the U.S. announced plans to deploy elements of its missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic to counter possible threats from Iran or North Korea, Russia proposed using jointly an alternative radar in Azerbaijan. The issue will top the agenda of bilateral two-day consultations between foreign and defense ministers in Moscow later Friday.

"We've been very clear that we need the Czech and Polish sites," Condoleezza Rice said en route to Moscow, where she will attend the talks together with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

"But I think we ought to look at all the possible elements of what the president and President Putin called a kind of regional architecture for missile defense," she said. "And there is considerable interest in both Azerbaijan and some of the possibilities in Russia itself."


The Moscow talks are also expected to cover a whole spectrum of issues of strategic stability, including further reductions of strategic arsenals after the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1) expires in December 2009.

Rice said her country wanted to preserve useful elements of the treaty but was against some of its outdated elements.

"And so we're looking for ways to continue the elements of START that are of very great use to everyone, but without again trying to go back to the days of arms control treaties that were many, many telephone books large," she said in a statement posted on the Department of State Web site.

Russia and the U.S. announced in December 2001 that they had fulfilled obligations to cut their arsenals under the treaty.

Russian Bear bombers flights

President Vladimir Putin announced the resumption of strategic patrol flights on August 17, saying that although the country halted long-distance strategic flights to remote regions in 1992, other nations had continued the practice, compromising Russian national security.

Rice said Gates was likely to raise the issue after Associated Press reports in early October said, citing official sources, that Russia's resumed strategic flights in buffer zones near Alaska and Canada had aroused serious concerns in Washington.

Russia said the latest flights were in line with an air-patrolling plan, and the planes were accompanied by NATO fighters. According to various sources, the Russian Air Force currently deploys 141 Tu-22M3 bombers, 40 Tu-95MS bombers, and 14 Tu-160 planes.

NGOs, civil society

The U.S. secretary of state praised the level of bilateral relations between the two countries, including on international issues such as Iran, North Korea and the Middle East but said the Bush Administration was concerned about legal restrictions on non-governmental organizations operating in Russia.

In late 2005, the Russian parliament passed a Kremlin-sponsored bill preventing foreign NGOs from running branch offices in the country and making Russian groups ineligible for most sources of foreign funding, which drew strong criticism from the West and civil rights groups at home and abroad.

"But you know, it's an interesting time in Russia. I'm looking forward to some discussions that I'm going to have with some members of nongovernmental organizations and civil society," Rice said. "I'll be interested in their take on the political situation in Russia and the kind of internal politics there."

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