April 25th, 2007 10:57 EST
Russian Opposition to Missile Defense Plan is No Surprise, Says Gates
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today said he is not surprised that some Russian officials have different points of view on the U.S. plan to base missile defense assets in Eastern Europe.
"We`ve made some very far-reaching proposals, and I have no doubt that there`s debate in Moscow about how to respond under the circumstances," the secretary said at a news conference here with German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung.
The secretary stopped in Germany on his way back to Washington to brief German leaders on his talks with senior leaders in Moscow and Warsaw, Poland, earlier this week. In his meetings with the Poles and the Russians, Gates discussed the plan to base ground-based interceptors in Poland and radar assets in the Czech Republic.
Polish leaders said the plan would enhance their country`s security. German leaders expressed their gratitude that U.S. officials were undertaking discussions on the plan with the Russians.
Jung said missile defense is a very important activity because it`s a way of meeting the threat before the threat matures, a senior administration official in the meeting with the Germans reported. Gates noted that President Bush initiated the talks at the suggestion of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Responding to a question about news reports on Russian opposition to the plan, Gates said, "It may take awhile for the Russians to consider what we said."
He noted that Russia`s foreign minister did not sit in on the meetings, nor did the chief of the general staff sit in on several of the meetings.
During his meetings in Moscow, the secretary explained that the missile system would not be a threat to Russia and asked them to be a partner in its development. He also announced that the U.S. and Russia would form a working group of experts to address the technical details of the plan and Russian concerns.
"We`ve made a very forthcoming offer," Gates said. "We`ve invited them to come see our interceptors in Fort Greeley, Alaska, and to come see our radar in California. We even offered to collocate radar with them and share data."
The Russians have not yet responded to the invitation, he said.
The secretary said U.S. officials have been talking to the Russians about missile defense for several years, and he thinks it`s important that the dialogue was initiated again over the last few weeks.
"I hope that they understand the intensification of this effort and the effort to try to (create) a potential partnership through the dialogue we`ve had in Moscow this week and at NATO last week," he said.
A senior administration official traveling with Gates told reporters on background that the secretary is not discouraged by the Russians` negative statements.
"In my experience, particularly in this kind of circumstance, when the Russians are on a wicket, they tend to have relatively uniform talking points," he said. "They tend to stick to those talking points until they`ve made the decision as a government to change their position. Then the talking points change, and they`ll have a new set of talking points which they`ll all use."
The secretary and his senior advisors did not anticipate getting a speedy response from the Russians, the official said. "It doesn`t happen overnight," he stressed.
The defense officials went to Moscow to further the discussion, he said, and the Russians are now seriously looking at the proposals.
The Russians did agree, however, to have their experts sit down with U.S. experts and "work through some of the basic facts of the system," the official said.
U.S. officials hope to "ameliorate their concerns, through transparency measures or otherwise, so that they will understand what we believe to be the truth of the matter, which is that this is not a system directed against them. It`s directed against Iran," he said.
U.S. leaders are going to "extraordinary lengths," he said, to brief both the Russians and European allies. The next step is to follow through on the invitations the secretary extended.
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service