NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has expressed hope that an agreement can still be reached with Russia on a NATO missile-defense system in Europe -- in spite of a new, harder line from Russia against the plan.
Rasmussen was speaking in reaction to Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov's statement on May 3 that negotiations with the United States over the proposed antimissile shield are near a "dead end."
After a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron In London, Rasmussen said he was "hopeful" that NATO could reach agreement with the Russians, although not before a NATO summit in Chicago on May 20-21.
"I'm hopeful that we can [reach an agreement with Russia on missile defense] -- obviously not before the Chicago summit, but there is still room for dialogue with the Russians," he said.
Speaking earlier on May 3 at a conference in Moscow, Serdyukov said the two sides had so far failed to find a "mutually acceptable solution" to disagreements over the U.S.-led NATO shield. "The situation is practically at an impasse," he said.
In Moscow, Serdyukov also said Russia was "ready for open dialogue."
Missiles In Kaliningrad
Meanwhile, Russia's Chief of General Staff Nikolai Makarov on May 3 struck a more aggressive note, warning again that Russia might opt to station short-range Iskander missiles in its Kaliningrad exclave near Poland.
Russian media quoted Makarov as saying, "the placement of new strike weapons south and northwest of Russia against [NATO] missile-defense components, including the deployment of Iskander missile systems in the Kaliningrad region is one possible way of incapacitating the European missile-defense infrastructure."
Washington insists the system is not meant as a threat to Russia but is aimed at protecting Europe from potential ballistic-missile attack by countries like Iran.
Speaking to reporters in Washington on May 3, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Russia had no reason to worry that the shield plan would undermine Russia's nuclear deterrent.
"There is no reason for Russia to take military countermeasures to missile defenses that will not affect the strategic balance between the United States and Russia," Toner said.
"This is a common refrain to anyone who has followed this issue, but we've made clear for many years now that there is no intent, desire, or capability to undermine Russia's strategic deterrent."
Russia, however, says the shield could threaten its national security. Moscow has voiced fears that the shield will become powerful enough to undermine Russia's nuclear deterrent.
President Dmitry Medvedev said last year Russia would retaliate militarily if it did not reach agreement with the United States and NATO.
Russia and NATO agreed in 2010 to cooperate on missile defense, but have failed to reach a deal. Representatives from more than 50 countries, including the United States, are attending the Moscow conference.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and RIA Novosti