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U.S. Offers Moscow Concession On Missile Shield

U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns: "Open to the possibility"
MOSCOW -- The United States is ready to look at remodeling its missile-defense plans to include Moscow, a senior U.S. diplomat has said in a concession to Russian anger over Washington's missile-shield plans.

The Kremlin has been pressing Washington to give ground on the proposed missile shield in exchange for Russia helping supply the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan -- a priority for new President Barack Obama.

Washington and Moscow have in the past discussed a compromise deal that would give Russia a role in the U.S. shield but those talks petered out in the last days of the previous U.S. administration.

"[Washington is] open to the possibility of cooperation, both with Russia and NATO partners, in relation to a new configuration for missile defense which would use the resources that each of us have," Interfax news agency quoted U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns as saying.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow confirmed the text of the interview. Burns, a former ambassador to Moscow, was in Russia this week for talks with officials.

Burns gave no details on what form the new missile-defense configuration might take, but the wording he used appeared to go further than previous U.S. proposals aimed at easing Russia's objections.

Asked by Reuters if he was encouraged that the United States seemed to be listening to Russian concerns on missile defense, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "[Burns] said the right thing."

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said last week he wanted to hit the "reset button" on diplomatic relations with Russia which, under former U.S. President George W. Bush, reached their lowest level since the Cold War.

The Bush administration pushed ahead with plans to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic to counter possible missile strikes from what it called "rogue states," specifically Iran.

Moscow says Tehran does not have the capability of hitting Europe and sees the shield as designed to neutralize Russia's nuclear arsenal. It has threatened to deploy missiles on Poland's border if the shield goes ahead.

Compromise Deal?

The Obama administration has said it will press ahead with the missile-shield plan, but only if it is proven to work and is cost-effective -- a qualification seen in Moscow as a sign Washington is ready to compromise.

Negotiations under the previous U.S. administration focused on giving Russian officials access to the missile-defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic so they could verify they were not directed against Russia.

Former Russian President Vladimir Putin had proposed a joint missile-defense system, with the Pentagon having access to data from a Russian-operated radar station in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan, which borders Iran.

Both negotiating tracks stalled, with Moscow saying it wanted an integral role in any missile-defense system and Washington saying the radar in Azerbaijan could only complement its shield, not replace it.

Afghanistan is a major bargaining chip for Russia in negotations over missile defense.

Obama has placed the fight against the Taliban at the center of his foreign-policy agenda and he is expected to nearly double the U.S. presence in Afghanistan to about 60,000 troops over the next 12 to 18 months.

The Pentagon wants Russian cooperation to supply its forces in Afghanistan, especially since convoys of trucks taking in equipment via Pakistan were attacked by militants.

Russian officials said this week they were open to providing the U.S. military with a transit corridor for nonlethal supplies, though they have given strong hints they want something in exchange from Washington.