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Published:April 14th, 2008 10:37 EST
Regional missile defense talks expected

Regional missile defense talks expected

By SOP newswire2

Washington -- President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin charted the course ahead for their successors in their final presidential meeting, including steps toward a future missile defense system jointly operated by Europe, Russia and the United States.

“We agree today that the United States and Russia want to create a system for responding to potential missile threats, in which Russia and the United States and Europe will participate as equal partners,” Bush told reporters April 6 at Putin’s presidential residence in the Black Sea coastal resort of Sochi, Russia. Bush called the development “a significant breakthrough.”

The Sochi talks followed a 28-nation endorsement of ballistic missile defense at the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest, Romania, and the Czech Republic’s announcement that it would host the system’s tracking radar.

While Russia continues to disagree with the plan, it welcomed U.S. offers to monitor the project, which also involves installation of 10 interceptors in neighboring Poland.  Bush and Putin further agreed to step up talks on building a jointly managed regional missile defense system, an idea Putin initially put forward during his 2007 visit to the Bush family estate in Kennebunkport, Maine.

“Our U.S. partners not only understand our concerns, but are sincerely trying to overcome our concerns,” Putin said after the talks, expressing “cautious optimism,” for the plan.

Expert-level negotiations on the missile defense plan will take time, said National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, but developments in Bucharest and Sochi represent a step forward in meeting 21st-century security challenges.

“You have both now the NATO alliance and the Russian Federation signed on to pursuing missile defense,” Hadley told reporters as they returned from Sochi.  “We have been trying to engage the alliance and Russia in missile defense now for about 15 years, and it has finally all come together today.” 

STRATEGIC FRAMEWORK DETAILS COMPLEX RELATIONSHIP

Missile defense was one of several items covered in an 11-page “Strategic Framework Declaration,” signed by Bush and Putin in Sochi to detail the full spectrum of U.S.-Russian relations as Putin’s successor Dmitry Medvedev comes to office in May and the United States prepares for presidential elections later in the year.

“We worked very hard over the past years to find areas where we can work together, and find ways to be agreeable when we disagree,” Bush said.  “This strategic framework declaration really does show the breadth and the depth of our cooperation.”

Both sides pledged to continue working together to address pressing diplomatic challenges, including Middle East peace, the Six-Party Talks process for stabilizing the Korean Peninsula, a negotiated solution for Iran’s controversial nuclear program and supporting conflict resolution in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.  Washington and Moscow committed to further reductions of their nuclear weapons stockpiles by negotiating a new agreement to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which will expire in 2009. The two sides also will begin talks on threats posed by intermediate and short-range missiles. 

The declaration also details progress of U.S.-Russian efforts to promote civilian nuclear power while preventing the spread of sensitive weapons-related technologies. These efforts include the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, building an international atomic fuel bank, the 81-nation Proliferation Security Initiative and the 67-nation Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, which Bush called, “an important initiative in which the Russians and the United States have worked cooperatively.”

The declaration also documents extensive counterterrorism cooperation between the United States and Russia to date and pledges to continue strengthening intelligence sharing and joint efforts to track and freeze terrorists’ finances.

The White House reiterated its commitment to helping Russia join the World Trade Organization and pledged to work with Congress to scrap remaining Cold War-era restrictions to extend permanent normal trade relations status to Russia by the end of the year.  The declaration also pledges efforts to promote investment, boost energy security and address climate change.

See the text of a fact sheet on the declaration.

By David I. McKeeby
Staff Writer