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US, Russia to Hold Talks on Missile Defense

By Meredith Buel
State Department
14 March 2008

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are scheduled to meet their Russian counterparts early next week in Moscow to continue their strategic dialog on missile defense and other issues. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has a preview of the visit in this report from the State Department.

Secretaries Rice and Gates will be meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov in what is being called the two-plus-two format designed to improve the two countries strategic relationship.

The four last met in October and are expected to discuss the U.S. plan to build a missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Russia opposes the plan, but according to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack the U.S. has presented proposals designed to ease Moscow's concerns.

"Obviously they will talk about missile defense and there have been some creative proposals from us that have been on the table for several months and they have been a topic, and a source, for discussion with the Russian government," said McCormack. "I would expect that discussion continues during this two-plus-two session."

McCormack declined to discuss the proposals in detail, but other U.S. officials say there has been an unprecedented exchange of intelligence information between the United States and Russia regarding the missile threat and details of how the shield would work.

Officials say there have been technical exchanges among experts to answer Moscow's concerns that the shield, which consists of a radar system and surface-to-air interceptors, presents no threat to Russia's strategic nuclear weapons program.

The officials say the United States is also proposing what is being called a joint regional missile defense architecture designed to defend the United States, Russia and Europe from a missile attack.

U.S. officials are also proposing a range of transparency and confidence-building measures and spokesman Sean McCormack says talks on those issues are expected to continue when Rice and Gates meet their counterparts in Moscow.

"We think this is in our interest and the interest of our friends and allies to protect against launches from rogue regimes such as Iran," he said. "It is in no way, shape or form, directed at Russia. In fact there is no way that nine or ten interceptors could act as a deterrent against a significant, still significant, Russian nuclear arsenal."

While McCormack says he expects serious discussions, he declined to predict whether any significant progress would be made on the missile defense issue during the upcoming talks in Moscow.

The leaders are also expected to discuss joint U.S.-Russian initiatives on non-proliferation, the peaceful use of nuclear energy and the fight against terrorism.

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