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U.S., Russia fail to overcome missile shield differences

RIA Novosti

28/03/2008 10:21 WASHINGTON, March 28 (RIA Novosti) - The United States and Russia made some progress on a strategic framework agreement, but failed to settle differences on the disputed missile defense plans for Europe during two days of talks in Washington.

"We made a lot of headway ... but there are still significant issues that need to be resolved," acting U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Rood said on Thursday following talks with the Russian delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak.

The talks in Washington on Wednesday and Thursday were a follow up to a visit to Moscow earlier this month by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The top officials brought proposals giving Russia access to monitor the planned missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The U.S. wants the framework agreement, which along with missile defense covers other key bilateral issues, to be agreed on by a meeting between President George W. Bush and President Vladimir Putin in the latter's Black Sea residence on April 6.

Before the meeting in Sochi, both presidents are to attend a NATO summit in Romania earlier in April. These meetings could be their last as presidents, with Putin stepping down in May, and Bush's term expiring next January.

U.S. plans to deploy missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, Russia's former Soviet allies, have plunged relations between Washington and Moscow to a post-Cold War low.

Washington says the defenses are needed to counter threats from Iran and other 'rogue' states, but Moscow treats them as a direct threat to its security.

On Thursday, Russia's foreign minister praised U.S. moves to ease Russian missile shield concerns, but said giving up the idea of opening new missile bases in Central Europe was the best way of addressing Moscow's unease.

"Our position remains unaltered. The best way of addressing concerns related to the third missile site [in Europe] is to drop the plans, and switch to joint projects," Sergei Lavrov said.

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