Russia, U.S. must agree first on missile threats

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Moscow and Washington must agree on where the threats to their security come from before plans to cooperate on missile defense can progress, Russia’s negotiator said.

Sergei Ryabkov, who is also deputy foreign minister, told Reuters that U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision to scrap Bush-era missile defense plans opposed by Russia had changed the atmosphere but left some basic questions unanswered.

Ryabkov represented Russia at the first round of talks with the United States on anti-missile systems in Moscow on Monday, a day before the issue was discussed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as part of her visit to Russia.

“Before we start talking about technical cooperation we need to have a political will, we need to answer the basic political questions -- do we have similar assessments of security challenges to the world?” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

Previous U.S. President George W. Bush had announced plans to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic to repel potential attacks from Iran.

Russia at the time questioned the official justification given by Washington for the anti-missile system, saying Iran had no potential to build missiles capable of reaching Europe.

Moscow has suggested the whole project was targeted at Russia, making missile defense the biggest irritant in rapidly deteriorating ties during the Bush era.

Last month Russia welcomed Obama’s decision to scrap the central European portion of Bush’s missile defense scheme, based on a fresh assessment of the threat posed by Iran. Obama now wants Russia to cooperate in shaping an anti-missile shield for Europe.


However, the new scheme based on sea- and land-based missile interceptors in Europe proposed by Obama, has alarmed some diplomats and generals in Moscow. Russia’s ambassador in NATO Dmitry Rogozin, in remarks promptly disowned by the Kremlin, has said the new scheme could pose even bigger risks.

Skeptics in Moscow fear that U.S. missiles may now emerge even closer to the Russian borders, for instance in post-Soviet Ukraine. Washington has denied having such plans.

Consultations in Moscow have been organized to clarify the situation and examine possible new ways to cooperate.

“They (Americans) gave very detailed explanations on Obama’s anti-missile defense plans,” Ryabkov said. “But the new basics of anti-missile defense still pose questions.”

“The first question is how the new-look missile defense will be configured, where its elements will be deployed..”

Clinton’s talks in Moscow showed neither Moscow nor Washington intended to allow outstanding doubts about the anti-missile plans to spoil a broader effort resetting ties launched by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov carefully avoided mentioning any concerns over the issue. Lavrov said that Moscow was still awaiting more detail on the U.S. plans.

“Indeed we want to know what are these plans, what they provide for, how the concept will function,” he told a news conference. “The more we know about this concept, the sooner we will come to understanding of whether we can work jointly on a project...which will provide equal participation.”

Russia says its concerns over the U.S. missile shield will be finally removed only if it becomes an equal partner in a common project.

Moscow and Washington are seeking to set up a mechanism to jointly monitor regional missile threats and Russia has said it was ready to offer its radars to carry out the task.

Ryabkov said there were still differences in approaches but there was a chance for reaching a political understanding.

“We say that before starting practical cooperation we need to have a political understanding,” Ryabkov said. “The Americans see it in a different way -- they have a scheme and they invite others to join.”

“But the atmosphere has changed,” he said. “It is a positive development that a fresh look at Iran’s potential has become a reason for reviewing anti-missile defense plans.”

Ryabkov said no exact date has been set to continue missile consultations with the United States after Monday’s talks.

Writing by Oleg Shchedrov; Editing by Angus MacSwan