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Russia: Germany Won't Mediate In Missile Debate With U.S.

Munich, 14 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer says Germany will do all it can to facilitate a dialogue between Russia and the United States over Washington's planned missile defense system.

But Fischer says Germany is not prepared to act as a mediator between the two.

Fischer made his comments after holding talks earlier this week in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin and the head of Russia's national security council, Sergei Ivanov. Fischer said he would discuss Russia's position with U.S. officials when he visits Washington next week, but would not try to seek compromises.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is expected to present Russia's objections to the missile defense system when he meets U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell later this month in Cairo (Feb 24).

Russia says it believes the proposed missile defense system would destroy the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which it says forms the cornerstone of arms control agreements. Russia argues that if America goes ahead with a plan to build a missile shield, it might spur other countries to take similar measures or to increase the numbers of their own missiles, thereby eroding nuclear deterrence. Fischer told German news media that it was in everyone's interests that the U.S. and Russia discuss their differences over the missile system in a climate of cooperation, not confrontation. He said his talks left him with the impression that Russia wants to avoid a political clash with the U.S.

"We were pleased the Russian parliament, the president, the foreign minister, and the security adviser assured us they would take a constructive attitude and possibly hold talks with the United States on a missile defense system."

Fischer has made clear several times he has some sympathy for Russia's concern about the planned missile defense system.

But while in Moscow he stressed that Germany was a loyal partner of the United States. He told reporters: "The United States is our most important ally."

Fischer's most intense talks about the missile defense system were with the head of the Russian national security council, Sergei Ivanov. German officials described them as a continuation of talks between Fischer and Ivanov at a security conference in Munich earlier this month.

In an address to that conference, Ivanov said deployment of the U.S. missile system would destroy international strategic stability and open the way for a new arms race, including an arms race in outer space.

Ivanov said that if Washington dropped its plans, Russia was ready for a joint program with the United States to make radical cuts in the number of offensive strategic weapons.

Fischer's talks in Moscow also covered the European Union's plans to offer membership to Central European and Baltic nations. In an address to Russian political scientists, Fischer said the accession of the Baltic states to the Union would confer EU citizenship on the Russians living in these countries. He said this could help improve ties with Moscow.

The German foreign minister also met members of the Memorial organization, which seeks to defend human rights in Chechnya. According to the German Foreign Ministry, Fischer told them that accurate reporting of human rights violations was an important part of the effort to bring peace to the region.