Russian leader sees Obama flexible on missile defense
AFP - Monday, November 24
LIMA (AFP) - - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Sunday urged Barack Obama to drop US plans to install a missile defense shield in countries Moscow considers to be within its sphere.
Speaking to reporters at an Asia-Pacific forum in Peru, the Russian leader held out hope of improved ties under the administration of the future US president.
Obama has yet to state his position on the George W. Bush administration's controversial plans to establish missile shield facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland.
Asked if he saw a chance of a shift on the hot-button issue, Medvedev told reporters: "I think there are chances, because if the position of the current administration on this question looks extremely inflexible, the position of the president-elect looks more careful."
US plans to place a missile defense radar in the Czech Republic and linked interceptor missiles in Poland have raised a storm of protest from Moscow, which has said it will place missiles in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, close to Poland, in response.
Medvedev referred to the Obama team's refusal so far to state its position after Poland said the matter was already decided.
"It shows at least our future American partners are thinking about this. They don't have a once-and-for-always prepared template for solving this problem," Medvedev said.
"It means dialogue is possible ... A change of position is possible."
Medvedev was speaking at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, at which he met Bush on Saturday for farewell talks.
Washington insists the proposed missile defense facilities are directed purely at "rogue states" such as Iran and not against the Russian arsenal.
Medvedev this month said he would deploy Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad in response to the US plans, although he has indicated this could be reversed.
The previous leadership of Vladimir Putin threatened to target nuclear missiles at the facilities.
On Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed Russia wanted a complete abandonment of the US plans and said US promises to ease Russian concerns had proven empty.
"There has been no easing of our concerns," Lavrov told reporters, adding that Russia would set out its formal position at talks in December.
"Our concerns can only be removed by one thing -- the renunciation of plans for unilateral establishment of a missile defense system and an agreement to work together from scratch," he said.
Medvedev, was on a four-nation Latin American tour that will see him visit two arch-opponents of the United States, Cuba and Venezuela, with Russian warships due to hold exercises off Venezuela.
The Russian leader said it was time to revive what he called "privileged relations" with Latin American countries Moscow had close ties with in Soviet times, although he did not rule out such ties with Washington as well.
"One of the principles I set out was to develop relations with states with which we'd like to be connected by privileged relations," Medvedev said, referring to an earlier statement.
In addition to ex-Soviet neighbors, these include "the states of Latin America. With many of those states in the Soviet period we had rather powerful, serious relations. The time has now come to restore those relations," he said.
Medvedev's tour is seen by analysts as taking Russian defiance to Washington's doorstep, partly in response to US moves among Russia's own neighbors.
Communist Cuba received massive support from Moscow in Soviet times and was the setting of the 1962 Cuba missile crisis.
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Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev at the APEC summit in Lima on November 23. Medvedev has said he believed US president-elect Barack Obama could change Washington's position over a hotly contested plan for a US missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.
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