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Saber Rattling

DW staff (jam)
November 7, 2008

The United States has presented Russia new plans for a missile defense system in the hopes of mollifying Moscow's objections to the program and salvaging nuclear control accords between the two nations.

Payload missile
Obama has said he supports a 'pragmatic and cost-effective' solutionImage: AP Graphics

Russia's Foreign Ministry confirmed Friday, Nov. 7, it has received the proposal and a spokesman said Moscow was studying it. It will be discussed when the US and Russian defense and foreign ministers meet for their next round of two-plus-two format talks. No date for the talks has been scheduled yet although Sergei Ryabkov, Russia's deputy foreign minister, said they could take place within the next two weeks.

Washington's overture comes after Russia threatened action, should the United States set up components of the missile defense system in eastern Europe. Relations between Moscow and Washington have plummeted during George W. Bush's presidency, especially after the military conflict between Russia and US ally Georgia in August.

On Wednesday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev lashed out at the United States in a hawkish state-of-the-nation speech and said Moscow would deploy short-range Iskander missiles in its European enclave of Kaliningrad on the border with Poland to "neutralize" the planned US shield.

New access

US Secretary of State Rice and Polish President Kaczynski after signing a deal over the US missile defense base
US Secretary of State Rice and Polish President Kaczynski after signing a deal over the US missile defense baseImage: AP

John Rood, US Under Secretary of State for arms control and international security, said Thursday that the fresh proposal built on previous compromises that would allow the Russian military greater access to elements of the missile shield to be located in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Under the US proposals, Russian officials would be allowed to go to the missile defense sites and "see for themselves that the sites are going to serve the purpose that we envision in the United States," Rood said.

He added the United States has put forth plans to replace a key Cold War-era Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) when it expires in December 2009.

Rood is set to meet his Russian counterpart Ryabkov in Moscow later this month to discuss the proposals.

"We are looking forward to a robust dialogue with the Russians," Rood told Reuters news agency.

Too late?

Czech protestors
Some even outside of Russia are unhappy with the missile plans, like these Czech demonstratorsImage: AP

But at least one US arms control expert has said the Bush administration, which leaves office on Jan. 20, has run out of the time and influence it needs to successfully negotiate with the Russians.

The Russians "will wait and see what the next administration (of President-elect Barack Obama) has to offer," Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, told Reuters.

The Bush administration has so far failed to convince Moscow that its missile shield poses no threat to its security. Washington says the defense system is needed to provide protection against "rogue" states, such as Iran.

Obama has said he supports work on a system that protects the US and its allies from missile attacks, but has added that any such system must be "pragmatic and cost-effective." The president-elect has said he will see verifiable reductions in all US and Russian nuclear systems during his administration.

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