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US Offers Russia Assurance on Missiles

Though not backing away from plans to build a missile-defense system in central Europe, the United States is offering a series of confidence-building measures to allay Russian concerns about the project. Senior Russian officials were informed of the measures during so-called two plus two talks in Moscow among Russian foreign and defense ministers and their visiting U.S. counterparts. VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports from the Russian capital.

Speaking at a news conference after the talks, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States elaborated on a number of measures aimed at confidence building and transparency in order to assure that new American missile facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic would not constitute a threat to Russia.

"We have leaned very far forward in this to provide reassurance, and with a number of measures that, obviously, would require host-country approval and reciprocity," said Gates.

Moscow says a U.S. system on its doorstep would diminish Russia's strategic deterrent. The United States insists the missiles would defend against a potential Iranian missile threat.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the U.S. proposals are serious and will be studied. He was quick to add, however, that the best way to ease Russian concerns about the proposed system would be not to build it at all.

But Lavrov notes the firm U.S. intention to establish the system. Despite disagreement on the substance of this issue, the Russian official says the United States recognizes that Russia has legitimate concerns and has offered proposals to eliminate or allay them.

Lavrov said participants in the talks did not decide how to proceed after next year's expiration of 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. He noted that any new agreement would be legally binding, but that much work remains before it can be reached.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it is important to recognize the breadth of U.S.-Russian relations. Both sides worked out a strategic framework to govern those relations in the future. Rice said the document would reflect agreements already made or which need to be developed.

"For instance, global nuclear terrorism, [and] concerning the two presidents' [Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush] interest in developing a way to get assured fuel supply for countries that may wish to have civil nuclear power without the proliferation risk of enrichment and reprocessing," said Rice.

The United States said it would provide written copies of all proposals by the end of the day, which the Russian side said it would carefully study.

Secretaries Rice and Gates met earlier for private talks with several Russian opposition and business leaders. Participants included former member of parliament Vladimir Ryzhkov and Yabloko Party leader Grigory Yavlinsky. Former chess champion Garry Kasparov and former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov say they were not invited.