By Linda D. KozarynOctober 12, 2007
MOSCOW, Oct. 12, 2007 - U.S. plans to base missile defense radar and interceptors in Poland and the Czech Republic and Russia's opposition to those plans were at the heart of talks between U.S. and Russian leaders here this morning.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Defense Minister Anatoliy Eduardovich Serdyukov and Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov at Putin's residence outside of Moscow.
According to pool reports, Putin did not meet with Gates and Rice until 40 minutes after their arrival. Prior to the meeting, U.S. reporters asked Lavrov if there would be any big breakthroughs during the talks. The foreign minister replied: "Breaks, definitely. Through or down -- I don't know."
In his opening remarks, Putin said, "I hope today's talks on many issues will be fruitful, but I hope that in the process of such complex and multifaceted talks you will not be forcing forward your relations with the Eastern European countries."
In a tone described by pool reporters as "mocking," Putin mentioned the possibility of a future missile defense system.
"Of course we can sometime in the future decide that some anti-missile defense system should be established somewhere on the moon," Putin said, according to an English translation. "But before we reach such arrangements, we will lose the opportunity for fixing some particular arrangements between us."
Putin threatened to abandon a key nuclear missile treaty. He said the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty limiting Russian and U.S. short- and medium-range missiles was outmoded because other countries are acquiring such weapons.
"If we are unable to make such a goal of making this treaty universal, then it will be difficult for us to keep within the framework of such a treaty, especially when other countries do have such weapons systems," Putin said.
Gates told the Russians that the Pentagon was ready to intensify a dialogue on military relations.
"We have an ambitious agenda of security issues that concern both of us, including as you suggest, development of missile systems by others in the neighborhood, I would say in particular Iran," he said.
Rice responded to Putin's remarks by saying that the United States will try to find ways to cooperate. "Even though we have our differences, we have a great deal in common because that which unites us in trying to deal with the threats of terrorism, of proliferation are much greater than the issues that divide us," she said.
During a briefing on her way to Moscow, Rice said the goal of the missile defense system is to bring about security for European allies and the United States.
"We've been very clear that we need the Czech and Polish sites," she said. "But I think we ought to look at all the possible elements of what the President (Bush) and President Putin called a kind of regional architecture for missile defense. And there is considerable interest in both Azerbaijan and some of the possibilities in Russia itself. So I think we ought to look at all the possible elements."