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U.S. offers Moscow concession on missile shield
Fri Feb 13, 2009 3:08pm EST
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By James Kilner and Ross Colvin
MOSCOW/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Friday signaled a willingness to slow down plans for a missile defense shield in eastern Europe if Russia agreed to help stop Iran's nuclear weapons programs.
"If we are able to work together to dissuade Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapons capability, we would be able to moderate the pace of development of missile defenses in Europe," a senior U.S. administration official said.
He spoke as Undersecretary of State William Burns held talks in Moscow, the most senior U.S. official to do so since U.S. President Barack Obama took office last month.
Burns signaled the United States was ready to look at remodeling its missile defense plans to include Moscow.
"(Washington is) open to the possibility of cooperation, both with Russia and NATO partners, in relation to a new configuration for missile defense which would use the resources that each of us have," Interfax news agency quoted him as saying. Burns gave no details.
In another sign that strained relations may be thawing, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would meet Russia's foreign minister in Geneva next month.
The more flexible U.S. position on its missile shield addressed one of Russia's chief complaints against Washington. Moscow viewed the plan to site missiles in Poland and a radar tracking station in the Czech Republic as a threat to its security in its traditional backyard.
The Kremlin has been pressing Washington to give ground on the proposed missile shield in exchange for Russia helping supply the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.
But the U.S. official in Washington focused on Iran.
"The impetus for the deployment of the missile defense systems is the threat from Iran. If it is possible to address that, then that needs to be taken into consideration as you look at the deployment of the system," the U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
The United States has led a drive to isolate Iran over its nuclear program, which the West fears is a cover to develop atomic weapons and Tehran insists is for the peaceful generation of electricity.
Obama has said he is prepared to talk to Iran's leaders and offered economic incentives if Tehran "unclenches its fist."
The administration official said Burns' comments were "more expansive" than what had been said in the past. Former President George W. Bush, pushed the Russians to cooperate in the project without success.
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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told a security conference in Munich, Germany, last week that the United States would press ahead with the missile defense shield if it was proven to work and was cost-effective. Continued...
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