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US Seeking Russian Reciprocity on Missile Plan

By Peter Fedynsky
17 March 2008

The United States and Russia begin two-day talks in Moscow on Monday aimed at narrowing disagreements over a U.S. proposal to deploy a missile defense system in Central Europe. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports American officials expect Russia to offer a more positive response to the plan.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent a message to Moscow before his actual arrival in the city, telling reporters on his plane over the Atlantic that the United States has put a lot on the table in terms of missile defense proposals and it is time for the Russians to reciprocate. Gates says he sees potential for progress in the so-called two-plus-two talks in Moscow, but cautioned that he would not get to excited at this point.

The talks on Monday and Tuesday involve U.S. secretaries and Russian ministers in charge of defense and foreign affairs. The U.S. officials have also scheduled meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his hand-picked successor, Dmitri Medvedev.

The Kremlin opposes a U.S. plan to deploy a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Washington says the system is designed against a possible missile attack by Iran. Moscow is expressing fear it could eliminate Russia's strategic deterrent, and start a new arms race between the two nations.

But in remarks to VOA, independent Russian military analyst Alexander Khramchekhin questioned the assumptions of both sides. He says that if the U.S. system was designed against Russia, it would not be located to the west, but to the north of Russia. He notes that a polar trajectory is the shortest distance between Russia and the United States.

Khramchekhin says he cannot understand the logic of a system in Poland. While he recognizes that the trajectory of Iranian missiles aimed at the U.S. would pass over Poland, the independent analyst is convinced Iran will never have ballistic missiles.

But Iran last month claimed to have launched a rocket into space and the United States is concerned about possible development of Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile capability.

Defense Secretary Gates says he does not know if there are genuine Russian concerns that the United States could allay, or whether their counterproposals are basically, as he put it, a stalling exercise.

Russia's alternative plans include one for a joint Russian-American missile defense radar in Azerbaijan. American officials have been cool to this idea.

During the last two-plus-two talks held last October in Moscow, the United States proposed delaying activation of the Central European sites until Iran demonstrated evidence of a genuine missile threat. The United States also offered Russia access to the sites.

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