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Russia: Top U.S. Diplomat Downplays Talk Of Rift --> Daniel Fried (file photo) (official site) BRUSSELS, October 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates got a frosty reception in Moscow last week when they met their Russian counterparts, Sergei Lavrov and Anatoly Serdyukov. President Vladimir Putin even appeared to mock U.S. missile-defense plans. There was widespread talk in the media of a new low in bilateral relations.

But U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Daniel Fried, who took part in the talks, says that impression is misleading. As he told RFE/RL correspondent Irina Lagunina, the two sides are engaged in dialogue and Washington remains cautiously optimistic that agreement can be found.

RFE/RL: How do you evaluate the results of the Moscow talks? Did the United States accomplish what it set out to achieve?

Daniel Fried: The press accounts were much more downbeat than the actual results, at least as judged by those of us who participated in them. We made progress on missile defense, on CFE -- the Conventional Forces in Europe agreement. We didn't achieve an agreement or a breakthrough, but we made progress and the Russians have acknowledged it.

Today [October 17] at NATO, an American delegation [comprised of] Eric Edelman, General [Henry] Obering, the head of the Missile Defense Agency, and I, briefed the alliance about these talks and explained that we'd actually made progress. And the NATO-Russia Council has just broken up, where we discussed missile-defense cooperation. The Russians acknowledged that while we still have some differences, they want to work with us to narrow them and make progress where we can.

RFE/RL: What is the U.S. position on the Qabala radar in Azerbaijan, which the Russians have offered as an alternative to U.S. plans for radar and interceptor sites in the Czech Republic and Poland?

Fried: We think that President Putin made a very interesting offer to put, as it were, the Qabala radar in Azerbaijan on the table. He put it on the table and the Russian government position is that it is an alternative to the [proposed] radar in the Czech Republic. In our view, everything ought to be on the table: the Polish-based interceptors, the Czech radar, NATO assets existing or that could be developed, the Russian missile-defense system -- they have a big system outside of Moscow, as you may know -- a huge one. We ought to be working together to combine our efforts, to combine our assets, to deal with threats emerging from Iran and perhaps other places. So that's the essence of our proposal.

RFE/RL: While in Moscow, did the U.S. side discuss President Putin's recent threat to pull Russia out of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty?

Fried: We would like to find creative ways to avoid the collapse of the CFE Treaty and we don't think that responding harshly to these Russian moves is the best way to go. Obviously, we regret them.

But we came to Moscow with new ideas about how to make progress. We think that's the best way ahead. We have some differences with Russia, differences about energy issues, about democracy, about Russia's relations with some of its neighbors. But rather than have a relationship where we relentlessly focus on our differences, we want to emphasize where we can and then deal with our differences where we must.

RFE/RL: So you don't agree with the general assessment in the media that the Moscow talks offered yet more evidence of a deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations?

Fried: We took the 2+2 talks in Moscow very seriously. We came to it in a very constructive, open, creative spirit. We're not trying to find ways to say "no." We're trying to find ways to make progress.

On strategic issues, the United States and Russia ought to be working together. [As] the Russians realized last week that we were putting new ideas on the table and that we're serious, we found that they were responding in a constructive way. That doesn't mean they've abandoned their positions, it doesn't mean we don't have differences. But the talks that Secretaries Rice and Gates had with their Russian counterparts were more positive the longer they went on.
Moscow And Washington: Toe To Toe

U.S. President George W. Bush (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G8 summit in Germany on June 7 (AFP)

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