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Beginning of a Thaw?

DW staff (kjb)November 16, 2008

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the United States and Russia share "no trust" in relations but suggested the two countries can begin to heal ties and reach an agreement over a missile defense system.

Interceptor rocket launch
Medvedev proposed a global missile defense systemImage: APTN

Speaking Saturday, Nov. 15, after the gathering of 20 world economic powers in Washington to address the financial crisis, Medvedev said there is "no trust in Russian-US relations -- the trust we need" to tackle international challenges and strengthen ties.

However, he also signaled a readiness to enter into talks with the US over its plan to build a missile shield in eastern Europe.

"We will not do anything until America does the first step," Medvedev said. "I think we have a chance to solve the problem through either agreeing on a global (anti-missile) system or to find a solution on the existing programs which would suit the Russian Federation."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev delivers his annual address to the parliament
Earlier this month, Medvedev threatened to station missiles in KaliningradImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

For the first time, Medvedev indicated that Moscow could settle for something less than the complete cancelation of the missile shield plans.

On Nov. 5, one day after the presidential election in the US, the Russian president had announced that Moscow would place missiles in its eastern European enclave of Kaliningrad if Washington went ahead with the missile defense plan.

Optimistic about Obama

Medvedev seemed optimistic that the transition in the White House would provide a fresh opportunity for a new friendship between the two countries. President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office on Jan. 20, has been critical of US President George W. Bush's plans to build a missile defense system in eastern Europe, but hasn't yet taken a clear stance on the issue.

"The first signal we received (from President-elect Obama) shows that our partners think about this program rather than plan to simply rubber-stamp it," Medvedev said.

The Bush administration insists the system, to be built in Poland and the Czech Republic, is required to counter Iran's growing ballistic missile capability. However, the Kremlin considers the deployment a threat that would weaken its strategic nuclear deterrent.

France told to mind its own business

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country currently holds the rotating European Union presidency, told reporters on the sidelines of the Washington finance summit that "each country has the right to decide whether or not to install an anti-missile shield."

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Polish President Lech Kaczynski during a meeting with the press in Warsaw
The US and Poland signed a deal in AugustImage: AP

Sarkozy cited Poland and the Czech Republic, whose leaders responded frostily to the comments.

"The question of the anti-missile shield is governed by an agreement between Poland and the United States," said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. "I don't think that third countries, even such good friends as France, have a particular right to express themselves on this issue."

In August, the US signed an agreement with Poland to help modernize its military in exchange for the right to position the interceptor missiles on its territory.

At an EU-Russia summit on Friday in Nice, France, Sarkozy had called on the US to halt its plans for the missile shield and appealed to Russia not to set up missiles in Kaliningrad.