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Lavrov Welcomes U.S. Signals On Missile Shield

Foreign Minister Lavrov at his traditional annual press conference in Moscow in January

Foreign Minister Lavrov at his traditional annual press conference in Moscow in January

BERLIN (Reuters) -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has welcomed U.S. signals to review a missile-defense shield in eastern Europe, in an interview with German news magazine "Der Spiegel."

Lavrov said Russia wanted to work more closely with the West due to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and he expressly welcomed signals from President Barack Obama's administration on Iran.

He also renewed an offer to work together with the United States on the missile-defense shield.

"It's not too late. We could sit down at the negotiating table and evaluate the situation," Lavrov is quoted as saying in the interview, to be published on February 16, excerpts of which were made public two days ahead of the release.

The United States on February 13 signaled a willingness to slow plans for the missile-defense shield in eastern Europe if Russia agreed to help stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Plans for the shield have contributed to a deterioration in U.S.-Russian ties, but the Obama administration has said it wants to press the "reset button" and build good relations with Moscow.

Undersecretary of State William Burns has held talks in Moscow in which he signaled the United States was ready to look at remodeling its missile-defense plans to include Moscow.

"[Washington is] open to the possibility of cooperation, both with Russia and NATO partners, in relation to a new configuration for missile defense which would use the resources that each of us have," Interfax news agency quoted Burns as saying on February 13 in Moscow. Burns gave no details.

"If we are able to work together to dissuade Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapons capability, we would be able to moderate the pace of development of missile defenses in Europe," a senior U.S. administration official was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The more flexible U.S. position on its missile shield addressed one of Russia's chief complaints against Washington. Moscow viewed the plan to site missiles in Poland and a radar tracking station in the Czech Republic as a threat to its security in its traditional backyard.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden told a security conference in Munich, Germany, last week that the United States would press ahead with the missile-defense shield, but only if it was proven to work and was cost-effective.

The Kremlin has been pressing Washington to give ground on the missile shield in exchange for Russia helping supply the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan.