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Senior U.S. Diplomat In Moscow For Talks With Lavrov

William Burns

William Burns

(RFE/RL) -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is hosting a visit to Moscow by William Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs.

A senior U.S. officials said the talks between Burns and Lavrov will cover the "whole gamut" of relations between Washington and Moscow.

A priority is expected to be missile defense.

Moscow for months has hotly criticized U.S. plans to deploy elements of an antimissile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Washington says the plan will protect Europe against attacks from "rogue" states, such as Iran or North Korea.

Moscow, however, sees the shield as a threat to its own security.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week raised the stakes, warning he would place retaliatory missiles near the Polish border if the United States continues with its plans.

But Lavrov, speaking on November 11, suggested there is still time for both sides to call the whole thing off.

"There is nothing to worry about here," he said. "If all of us believe that Europe needs to establish a security system that does not encroach on anyone's interests, we have time to examine once again the real, not imaginary, threats to Europe, and make collective, not unilateral, decisions."

Much depends on whether U.S. President-elect Barack Obama chooses to proceed with missile defense after his inauguration.

The administration of outgoing President George W. Bush has in recent weeks offered Moscow several compromise proposals on missile defense. But the Kremlin has indicated it prefers to put its relations with Washington on hold until Obama takes office in mid-January 2009.

Obama expressed skepticism about the missile-defense system during the presidential campaign, saying he would support deploying such a system only once the technology proved workable.

Burns, who was appointed to his post under the Bush administration, was last week named co-chairman of the State Department presidential transition team. It is unclear, however, to what degree the current talks in Moscow reflect the future foreign policy course of the Obama administration.

Obama is expected to name his choice for secretary of state later this week.

Lavrov and Burns are also expected to discuss U.S. proposals for replacing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expires in December 2009.

The talks will also focus on Iran's nuclear program. From Moscow, Burns will travel to Paris to attend six-party talks aimed at reviving stalled efforts to impose new sanctions on Tehran.