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US Makes New Proposals to Russia on Missile Defense, Strategic Arms

The State Department's top arms control official says the United States has made new proposals to Moscow aimed at easing Russian concern about the planned U.S. missile defense system in central Europe. Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Rood says the Bush administration has also made a new proposal to cut U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The comments here came against a background of angry new criticism of the missile-defense plan by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

But Under-Secretary Rood said despite the unwelcome and threatening statements by the Russian leader, the two sides are still talking about arms issues and that Washington in the last two weeks has sent Moscow new proposals on both missile defense and strategic arms reductions.

Mr. Medvedev, in an address Wednesday in Moscow, said Russia plans to deploy short-range missiles in its Baltic-coast Kaliningrad enclave to counter the U.S. missile defense system.

Plans call for 10 U.S. missile interceptors to be placed in Poland and an associated radar system in the Czech Republic to defend against an anticipated long-range missile threat from Iran.

Despite U.S. assurances, Russia said the system would undermine its strategic deterrence and Mr. Medvedev's threat Wednesday to deploy mobile Iskander missiles and jamming equipment in Kaliningrad were the most specific from Russia on the issue to date.

In a talk with reporters, Rood said the United States this week sent Moscow a more detailed offer on confidence-building steps that would, among other things, give Russian monitors access to the installations in Poland and the Czech Republic to verify they are not aimed at Russia.

Rood said the Medvedev remarks were unwelcome but that U.S.-Russian dialogue on the issue will continue.

"We've heard some of those threats before," he said. "He [i.e., Medvedev] elaborated upon the previous Russian threats with some additional detail. I think as a whole, it was disappointing. But as a result of that we've not decided to disengage or something of that nature. Rather, to the contrary, we think it's just as important as ever to talk to the Russians about their concerns. We don't think that there's a legitimate basis to view what we've done, our plans, in Poland the Czech Republic as a threat to Russia."

The U.S. arms control official said he expects to meet his Russian counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov in Moscow in about two weeks to discuss missile defense and other issues, including a new U.S. proposal to further limit strategic nuclear weapons on both sides.

The two powers have been holding general discussions for some time on how to replace their 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, which expires at the end of 2009.

Rood said the previously-undisclosed U.S. proposal, conveyed to Moscow late last month, represents a shift in U.S. thinking by focusing on limiting nuclear warheads, rather than missile launchers, as in the START treaty.

"We now have put forward a legally-binding treaty. We think that the focus on nuclear warheads is appropriate in this treaty and that is what is reflected," Rood said. "The START treaty itself did not set limits on nuclear warheads, it set limits on delivery systems, and then a formula was used to attribute a certain number of nuclear warheads to delivery systems. But the treaty we have put forward has, at the center of its focus, limitation on strategic nuclear warheads."

Rood would not specify warhead limits being proposed by the United States but noted that a 2003 agreement between President Bush and then-Russian President Vladimir Putin already limits the sides to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads.

Rood said Moscow favors a broader treaty also covering some conventional arms systems including missile defense, but said he still believes negotiations can be completed before the START treaty expires.