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Medvedev Says Russia, U.S. Need Talks, Despite Dispute Over Missiles

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) meets U.S. President George W. Bush in Japan
HOKKAIDO, Japan -- Moscow and Washington should keep up dialogue despite failing to overcome differences on U.S. missile defense plans in Europe, a key irritant in ties, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said.

"There are certain questions on our agenda where we agree, and these are the matters pertaining to Iran and North Korea," Medvedev said on July 7 after meeting U.S. President George W. Bush for the first time on the fringes of a Group of Eight rich nations' summit in northern Japan.

"But then certainly there are others with respect to European affairs and this missile defense where we have differences," Medvedev, who took office in May, told reporters after his hourlong meeting with Bush. "We would like to agree on these matters as well."

The assertive foreign policy of Medvedev's predecessor, Vladimir Putin, who presided over eight years of economic boom in Russia, has put Moscow at odds with Washington over a series of issues ranging from Kosovo to NATO expansion.

Close Personal Ties

Still, warm personal ties between Bush and Putin helped prevent disagreements on specific issues from souring bilateral relations overall.

Russia watchers were keen to see whether Medvedev would follow suit, and the new Russian leader made clear he would.

Bush, whom Medvedev called by his first name, was equally keen to show a budding relationship with the new Russian leader, whom he described as "confident."

"I believe that when he tells me something, he means it," Bush said.

Medvedev's chief foreign policy adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, described the conversation between Medvedev and Bush as "friendly, constructive and open."

"The main result is that the leaders confirmed they are firmly committed to the existing formats of cooperation important for both bilateral relations and the situation in the world," he told reporters. "The leaders stressed the importance of top-level political contacts."

Disagreements Persist

Despite the generally positive tone of the meeting, Moscow's frustration over U.S. plans to deploy elements of its missile shield in Europe showed through.

The United States is due to sign a treaty this week with the Czech Republic to build a missile defense radar there. Washington is also negotiating to put 10 interceptor rockets in Poland that it says will protect the United States and European allies from threats from "rogue states" such as Iran.

But Russia rejects this and says the whole project threatens its national security.

Putin had said Russia could take military measures if Washington went ahead with the plan. He proposed creating a joint European advance warning system and offered Washington the use of its radar in the southern ex-Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

"The expert-level work continues, but Dmitry Anatolyevich [Medvedev] stated that there is no real progress," Prikhodko said. "He said we have a feeling that good ideas expressed at the top political level are not being realized."

Medvedev expressed specific concern over media reports that the United States was negotiating the deployment of interceptor missiles in Lithuania, an ex-Soviet republic and now a NATO member, Prikhodko said.

"This is absolutely unacceptable for Russia," he said.

But Medvedev made clear the door was still open for a compromise.

"Although there is no real progress, we felt that the mood among the U.S. team is to continue dialogue," Prikhodko said. "We will watch how it works out."