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Despite Difficulties, Kremlin Sees Better Ties With US


Kremlin leaders are offering a positive assessment about the future of U.S.-Russian relations, but caution that a number of difficult issues continue to separate the two sides, particularly those involving missile defense. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates that he considers a letter he recently received from President George W. Bush to be a serious document, which the Russian side has thoroughly analyzed.

Mr. Putin said if both sides are able to reach agreement on the letter's main points, it will be possible to say the U.S.-Russian dialogue is developing in a very productive manner. The Russian leader says a number of bilateral problems may be considered resolved. He notes, however, that many others still need to be discussed.

Mr. Putin's successor Dmitri Medvedev met separately with Rice and Gates, saying there is an opportunity for continuity in U.S.-Russian relations despite divergence on key strategic issues between the two countries.

Russia's president-elect says differences between Russia and the United States remain on such issues as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, and missile defense. Nonetheless, Medvedev says there is will and determination to move ahead. He also notes the presence of every opportunity to create a necessary foundation for near-term continuity in U.S.-Russian relations.

Medvedev adds that visiting U.S. officials are likely to face difficult talks on Tuesday with their Russian counterparts, Sergei Lavrov and Anatoly Serdyukov.

Rice and Gates arrived in Moscow with lowered expectations for progress in so-called two-plus-two talks among the defense and foreign-policy chiefs of both countries. Each side announced in advance that they expect the other to initiate movement. Russian officials said progress depends on serious proposals from the United States.

But Defense Secretary Gates said the United States has put a lot on the table in terms of missile defense proposals and it is time for the Russians to reciprocate. Gates added that he sees potential for progress during the Moscow talks, but cautioned that he would not get too excited at this point.

Both sides will be discussing a replacement for the 1991 START treaty, which set limits on U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons. The treaty expires next year. Secretary Rice has said the United States does not object to a formal agreement, but notes it is important to know what would be formalized.

The Kremlin also opposes a U.S. plan to deploy a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic to offset a potential threat from Iran. Moscow is expressing fear the system could eliminate Russia's strategic deterrent.

An alternative Kremlin plan includes a joint Russian-American missile defense radar in Azerbaijan. American officials have been cool to this idea. The United States has proposed delaying activation of the Central European sites until Iran demonstrated evidence of a genuine missile threat. The United States also offered Russia access to the sites.

Secretary Gates is in Moscow, still healing an arm that he broke in a recent slip on the ice. He joked that the injury might make it easier to negotiate with him. "We shall see," responded Dmitri Medvedev.