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Top US and Russian Defense Officials Renew Military Cooperation

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Meredith Buel

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, have vowed to expand military cooperation signaling an improvement in relations between the former Cold War foes.

In the first visit to the Pentagon by a Russian defense minister in five years, Serdyukov was greeted by a military band and color guard before heading into talks here at the Pentagon with Gates and other U.S. officials.

After several hours of meetings, the Russian defense minister and the U.S. defense secretary signed two documents on defense cooperation, including a memorandum that Gates said replaces an outdated 1993 accord.

"It underscores that defense cooperation is an important element of strengthening the wider U.S. - Russian relationship, especially now when our two countries confront many similar security threats and challenges," said Robert Gates.

Gates, a former director of the CIA, spent much of his career analyzing the Soviet Union.

Now, both Gates and Serdyukov have found common ground in an area unthinkable during the Cold War.  

Both men are involved in major battles to cut defense spending, overhaul their armed forces and cutback on the number of generals and other officers.

Gates acknowledged the difficulties in making such cutbacks.

"We are both working hard to achieve sweeping, sometimes painful, but very necessary reforms in our respective militaries," he said.

Using the same language, Serdyukov also described the reforms and cutbacks in the Russian military as painful.  

In addition to efforts to streamline their respective militaries, the Russian defense minister said discussions included the sensitive issue of missile defense.

"We have discussed in detail the issues pertaining to the national missile defense and the challenges facing us and the progress made by our joint work group in this aspect," said Anatoly Serdyukov.

A senior defense official told reporters that Gates thanked his counterpart for Moscow's permission to allow the U.S. military and NATO to move troops and supplies across Russian territory for the war in Afghanistan.

The deal has eased the pressure on supply routes through restive and flood-ravaged areas of Pakistan.

The official says the two men also discussed issues in the Middle East, with Gates expressing appreciation for Russia's support for sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program.

Relations between the two countries were shaken in 2008, when Russian troops invaded the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

U.S. officials say the biggest accomplishment of these latest talks was the renewal of dialog between defense officials in an effort to overcome a legacy of mistrust between the nations.

Serdyukov told reporters his first trip to the United States should have a positive impact.

"I do hope that my visit to the United States will provide a very powerful impetus to the development of the relations between our nations," he said.

Both Gates and Serdyukov had dinner aboard a U.S. Navy vessel on the Potomac River.

Serdyukov is also scheduled to visit the U.S. Naval Academy in nearby Annapolis, Maryland.  

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