Russia asks for regular U.S. missile defence consultations
MOSCOW, March 25 (Reuters) - Russia has asked Washington to hold regular consultations on missile defence in Europe, signalling that a shift in U.S. missile shield plans might help to resolve a row that has long strained ties.
Russia has toned down initial criticism of the U.S. decision, first announced on March 16, to add 14 interceptors in Alaska and forgo a new interceptor it had earlier planned to deploy in central Europe.
Cold War-era foes Moscow and Washington have long been at loggerheads over the anti-missile shield Washington has begun to deploy in Europe in cooperation with NATO nations.
But Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, on Monday told his U.S. counterpart Chuck Hagel Moscow wanted regular talks on that with Washington.
"We are very interested in further developments on the European missile defence and our minister offered to restart regular consultations on that between deputy ministers," Anatoly Antonov, a deputy of Shoigu, was quoted as saying by agency RIA.
Such talks could be held between Antonov and U.S. Under Secretary of Defence James Miller, the report said. Shoigu also proposed to Hagel to hold a meeting of Russia and NATO defence ministers in Moscow on the sidelines of a conference in May.
Moscow has said the shield would eventually enable the West to shoot down some Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles, undermining its nuclear deterrence capabilities and tipping the post-Cold War balance of power.
Russia has demanded legally binding guarantees that the shield would be used against it in spite of Washington saying the system was no threat to Russia and was only aimed as protection against any attacks by rouge states like Iran.
Russia has given no sign it will drop that demand, and senior Russian officials have said throughout the dispute that they are ready to continue dialogue with Washington.
Ties between Russia and the United States, both veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, have chilled since Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin for a third term in May over human rights and security, including the war in Syria.
But Russia's initial criticism of Hagel's announcement was followed by signals that the U.S. global air defences change, which the Pentagon said was needed to boost protection against North Korea, may help Moscow and Washington make progress.
Putin's foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov, was also quoted as saying on Monday that a national security aide of President Barack Obama, Tom Donilon, will visit Moscow on April 15 for talks, including on the missile shield.
Russia has frequently said it was unlikely to go for further cuts in its nuclear arsenal unless Washington satisfactorily addresses its concerns about missile defence. (Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Angus MacSwan)