Bush looking to resolve dispute over missile defence

March 30th, 2008 - 10:08 am ICT by admin  

By Mike McCarthy
Washington, March 30 (DPA) President George W. Bush departs Monday on a four-nation European tour, including the NATO summit in Romania, before heading to Russia for critical missile-defence talks with President Vladimir Putin. Bush was “optimistic” he could bridge differences with the outgoing Putin over the controversial US plans to station a missile defence system in former Warsaw Pact states Poland and the Czech Republic, and resolve the dispute that has dragged relations to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.

“I think a lot of people in Europe would have a deep sigh of relief if we’re able to reach an accord on missile defence,” Bush told reporters.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates flew to Moscow for meetings March 17-18 with their Russian counterparts proposing a strategic framework for cooperating on common threats and partnering on missile defence in Europe.

Lower level negotiations continued Wednesday and Thursday in Washington, and US officials said there was progress in building trust and transparency with the Russians over missile defence, but did not cite any tangible progress toward an agreement.

“Only time will tell whether we will, in fact, be as successful as we think we can be, but we are making progress,” said John Rood, the US undersecretary of state for arms control.

Russia is sceptical about US claims the system will be deployed to counter Iran’s growing ballistic missile capability and sees it as a threat to its nuclear deterrent. Rice has said the system of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland linked to a radar site in the Czech Republic is too small to respond to the hundreds of missiles in Russia’s nuclear fleet.

The US proposed allowing Russia to monitor and inspect the sites but that offer has not assuaged Moscow’s concerns. “A whole series of transparency and confidence-building measures have been developed that we have put on the table with our Russian colleagues related to their ability to monitor and inspect,” Rood said.

The US and the two host countries are nearing agreements to deploy the long-range missile-defence system by a 2013 timeframe. Rood said negotiations with the Russians will continue but would not predict the document would be complete by the time Bush arrives April 6 or 7 in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi for his meeting with Putin.

Afghanistan will be high on the agenda when Bush arrives in Bucharest for the April 2-4 NATO summit. The US has pushed allies to send more troops to Afghanistan and lift restrictions on already deployed forces that limit them to non-combat roles.

“The president’s message is going to be one of the importance of success in Afghanistan, the need for all countries to make it as a priority … and the need for all of us to do more,” said Stephen Hadley, Bush’s national security adviser.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged earlier this week he would send more troops to Afghanistan, but it remained unclear if the soldiers would go to relatively safe areas around Kabul or join the NATO fight in southern Afghanistan against the Taliban.

Gates has ordered an additional 3,200 Marines to Afghanistan to help fill the gap, which will bring the total US presence to 29,000 soldiers, about half of them under NATO command.

There are about 44,000 total NATO forces in Afghanistan. NATO has requested 7,500 more soldiers to fend off the resilient Taliban.

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