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Pentagon Disputes Russian Claim on Missile Defense Offer


The Pentagon is disputing a claim by Russia's foreign minister that a series of written proposals on missile defense sent to Moscow last week do not match offers made verbally in October during a visit by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told a news conference Wednesday he is not aware of any change in the U.S. proposals.

"Secretary Gates has been very clear about the proposals that he's put on the table for the Russians," he said. "He's spoken about it numerous times with you all [the media]. I don't think there's any backing away from what we put out there. So, I don't think you'll see an attempt in writing to sort of backtrack from what he's spoken of publicly about the proposals in terms of greater transparency and cooperation that we're putting forth with regards to missile defense in Europe."

Senior U.S. and Russian officials met on Monday to discuss the proposals and plan a meeting of technical experts. Morrell says the senior Pentagon official at that meeting did not tell him of any concerns raised by the Russian side about alleged changes in the proposals.

But after a separate meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian television the written U.S. proposals fall short of what was discussed in Moscow when Secretaries Rice and Gates visited. But he said Russia will study the document and try to reach an agreement with the United States.

Secretary Gates has said he offered Russia access to a radar site the United States wants to build in the Czech Republic and a missile interceptor site it wants to build in Poland. The secretary has also said the United States might be willing to delay activation of those parts of the missile defense shield until it has proof that Iran has developed a missile capable of hitting NATO member states in Europe.

Full details of the proposals have not been made public.

U.S. officials have said they hope to conclude agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic early next year, and to begin building the facilities within a few months after that.

Russia sees the missile defense installations planned for Europe as a potential threat. But U.S. officials say the system is aimed at detecting and shooting down missiles fired toward Europe from the Middle East, and therefore would be an asset to Russia.