US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US would move forward with plans to build a missile defense system in eastern Europe, while Russia upheld its threat to withdraw from Soviet-era arms control treaties if the system was a "unilateral" US project.
Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates were in Moscow to "two-plus-two" talks with Russian counterparts Sergey Lavrov and Anatoly Serdyukov to allay Russian fears that the system imperiled Russia's nuclear deterrent.
Moscow would take measures to "neutralize" the missile threat if it does not assume a "global" character, Lavrov told journalists following the talks, Interfax reported.
"We would like to avoid that," Lavrov added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier this year that he would consider targeting European cities with nuclear weapons if the missile shield deployment went ahead.
US: Eastern Europe key to missile plan
The US missile plan calls for installing a radar station in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland. Both countries, which used to be in the Soviet sphere of influence, are now European Union and NATO members.
The US had reviewed Putin's proposal to allow the use of Russian missile tracking facilities in Azerbaijan and southern Russia, but said these could not substitute for the system in eastern Europe.
Putin also told Rice and Gates it would be "difficult" for Russia to remain in the 1987 US-Russian Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) unless it was expanded to include other countries.
Russia: Bilateral treaty a security threat
"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 and among those are countries in our near vicinity," said Putin.
The INF treaty bars both Russia and the United States from deploying intermediate-range missiles. Russia says that leaves it unable to adequately protect itself from countries on its eastern and southern borders, including Iran, India and Pakistan, with growing arsenals.
Rice and Gates are in Russia for two days of talks on a range of issues including US missile defense plans and Russia's threatened withdrawal from another Cold War-era treaty, the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. This limits the number of troops and tanks stationed in Europe.
Talks on many prickly subjects
The two sides also discussed Iran's nuclear program, the status of Kosovo, and proposals to renew the Cold War START strategic missile treaty. The START treaty, on strategic nuclear weapons, expires in 2009. Washington says it does not plan to extend it, prompting Russian concerns about what will replace it.
Analysts say that Russia's threat to withdraw from the INF treaty is designed to strengthen its hand in strategic talks with the US.
Simon Saradzhyan, an independent analyst in Moscow, told the Reuters news agency: "In the short-term this is a bargaining chip in the negotiations on the broader agenda of arms control, including whether the START treaty will be extended and the future of the CFE treaty."
"In the medium term Russia would like to have more adequate tools in its tool box for the deterrence of its neighbors, which unlike Russia have a free hand in acquiring medium-range conventional missiles."