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U.S.: Moscow Talks To Focus On Missile Defense

Daniel Fried (file) (epa) WASHINGTON, October 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will be in Moscow for two days next week for the so-called “two-plus-two” meetings to discuss several bilateral issues with their Russian counterparts, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.

Daniel Fried, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said the focus will be on the much-contested U.S. plan to deploy parts of a missile-defense shield in Central Europe.

U.S. President George W. Bush says the shield is meant to protect the United States and its European allies against a potential attack by a rogue nation, such as Iran. But Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia itself may be the target, and has opposed Washington's plans to place missile interceptors in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic.

Fried said Rice and Gates are perfectly willing to talk about such concerns with their two Russian counterparts October 12-13.

"If the Russians are concerned that somehow 10 unarmed missiles in Poland are a threat, let's discuss it," he told a State Department briefing October 5. "If they're concerned that the initial missile deployment in Poland could be followed by something else, we can discuss ways to address that concern. I mean, we're certainly open to those kinds of discussions."

'Issues In Common'

Fried said Washington and Moscow have interests in several issues around the world, some of which they see differently, some of which they agree on, and some of which their views are mixed.

For example, Fried said the two countries have differences on the status of Kosovo, but take the same stance on the North Korean nuclear program. As for Iran, he said, both countries agree that it shouldn't have nuclear weapons, but they differ on how to prevent it. These are among the many issues that are expected to come up during the talks.

Strategic issues such as these -- and the missile-defense shield -- are important, Fried said, and are the kinds of subjects that actually bring Russia and the United States together.

Fried stressed that no one at the State Department expects that all or even any of the issues at the table will be resolved by the end of the meetings. But he said the session in Moscow would provide a solid basis for advancing mutual understanding.

"I think it's important to frame up the issues and give direction, guidance; instructions to the experts [and] the negotiators, and then we'll proceed," he said.

Several reporters asked about the Bush administration's attitude about democracy in Russia. Fried said the administration -- Rice in particular -- believes that although Russia has a strong presidency, other institutions are too weak. Rice, he said, believes democracy in Russia would be stronger if these institutions were stronger, too.

'No' To Armenian Genocide Bill

Because Fried's area of expertise includes all Eurasia, he was asked about other countries in the region. One question had to do with a bill being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives that would have the United States formally declare that the mass deaths of Armenians in 1915 at the hands of Ottoman Turks were genocide.

Fried said the Bush administration opposes the bill, but not because it denies that the deaths occurred, as the legislation says they did. Rather, he says they oppose it because it would hurt U.S.-Turkish relations, Turkish-Armenian relations, and even U.S. forces in Iraq, which rely on passage through Turkey.

Fried said that to oppose the bill isn't to deny the tragedy of 1915.

"We do not deny anything," he said. "But we do not believe that this bill would advance either the cause of historical truth, or Turkish-Armenian reconciliation, or the interests of the United States, and we oppose it."

Fried also was asked about the arrest in Georgia of that country's former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, once an ally of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. Okruashvili, who recently accused Saakashvili of ordering the killing of a political opponent, was arrested October 4 on corruption charges.

The State Department is “disturbed” by the arrest, Fried said.

"Any kind of arrest like this raises some serious questions and we have spoken to the Georgians about it," he said.

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