MOSCOW, March 25 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)