MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian officials said on Thursday the United States had not done enough to address their concerns about an anti-missile shield it is deploying in Europe, indicating U.S. moves to scale down its plans will bring no quick breakthrough.
Their remarks suggested missile defense will remain a bone of contention in relations, increasingly strained since Vladimir Putin returned to the Russian presidency last May.
They indicated there had been no major progress during a visit on Monday by President Barack Obama’s national security adviser Tom Donilon, who met Putin in the highest-level contact since Obama began a new term in January.
“There is still time to search for a solution to this problem, but it requires political will, and so far this has not been apparent in sufficient measure from the American side,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said at a discussion with Russian policy analysts.
The Pentagon said last month it would station additional missile interceptors in Alaska in response to North Korean threats and at the same time forgo a new type of interceptor that would have been deployed in Europe as part of the shield.
NATO and U.S. officials have expressed hope that the change could help end the standoff by removing what Russia has called its main concern: that the system’s interceptors could shoot down its long-range nuclear missiles.
But Ryabkov repeated Russia’s demand for “firm legal guarantees” that the shield, which consists of interceptor missiles and radar systems and is to be completed by about 2020, is not intended to shoot down Russian missiles and cannot do so.
The United States and NATO, which is cooperating on the shield, have refused to provide such guarantees, which would be virtually impossible to get past U.S. lawmakers because of concerns about giving Moscow a veto on missile defense plans.
The allies say the shield is designed to protect against potential threats from Iran and poses no danger to Russia.
Some Western diplomats suspect the Kremlin has been using its concern over the European missile shield as a bargaining chip and will continue to do so.
Russia has indicated it is unlikely to agree to further cuts in long-range offensive nuclear weapons, beyond those agreed in the 2010 New START treaty with the United States, if its concerns about missile defense are not addressed.
Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, who spoke after Ryabkov at the discussion, said Russia needed binding guarantees about the U.S. shield because there was a risk it could change its plans in the future.
“The Americans always say, ‘Aw, forget about your guarantees - let’s start cooperating, and as we cooperate you’ll see how harmless our system is,'” Antonov said. “We are not prepared to do things that way.”
Editing by Andrew Roche