US fails to close gaps with Russia on missile shield
Sunday, 30 March 2008

The United States said on Thursday it made some progress in two days of talks with Russia over a disputed U.S. missile shield to deter attacks from states like Iran, but big differences remained, reports Reuters.

The latest talks in Washington followed a visit last week to Moscow by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who offered to give Russians access to U.S.-proposed shield sites in the Czech Republic and Poland as a way of allaying Russian fears over the plan.

“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 told reporters at the end of the talks.

Both sides discussed written proposals on missile defense and other key bilateral issues delivered by Rice and Gates at the end of their Moscow trip. Washington wants to get a so-called strategic framework agreement on key issues between the two countries in time for a summit next month between U.S.

President George W. Bush and outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin, but U.S. officials conceded there was a way to go yet. Asked whether he thought the strategic framework document, which includes missile defense, would be agreed on before the Putin-Bush summit, senior State Department official Dan Fried told reporters: “I don’t know.”

“They were not going to give away positions where they had disagreements, but they were not throwing up roadblocks and spinning things out,” Fried added.

Rood said they were working at an “intense” pace, but he was noncommittal over when there might be agreement. “I often find it difficult to predict when my counterpart will finally reach a meeting of the minds with me.

It is always a difficult challenge,” he said. The U.S. plan to place parts of a missile defense system in of a missile defense system in formerly Soviet- allied countries has been a major factor in the deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations in recent years.

The dispute has pushed diplomatic relations to a post- Cold War low, although trade has been unaffected. Washington says the system is needed to protect against growing capabilities of “rogue” states like Iran, but Moscow says the system could threaten Russia.

The latest American proposals under discussion are meant to convince Moscow that the missile defense system in Eastern Europe would not be directed against Russia, U.S. officials said.

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