Thursday, May 31, 2007

Rising tensions overshadow US-Russian talks

Rising tensions overshadow US-Russian talks
By Andrew Ward and Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington and Neil Buckley in Moscow
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: May 30 2007 19:58 | Last updated: May 30 2007 19:58

President Vladimir Putin is to visit the US for talks with President George W. Bush, amid arguably the most serious strain in relations between Washington and Moscow since the Soviet era.

The pair will meet at the summer home of Mr Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, in Kennebunkport, Maine, on July 1 and 2.

The summit follows months of rising tensions over Washington’s plan to install part of its ballistic missile defence system in central Europe – a move Mr Putin this week said would turn the region into a “powder keg”.

The former cold war rivals are also at odds over the future of Kosovo, the Nato-protected Serbian province that the US is backing to become independent.

Tony Snow, White House press secretary, said the agenda would include Iran, civil nuclear co-operation and the missile defence system. “It’s an opportunity for him and President Putin to continue what is always, for the two of them, candid and very honest conversations about things that matter.”

“Co-operation between the US and Russia is important in solving regional conflicts, stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction and combating terrorism and extremism.”

The talks will mark the second face-to-face encounter between the leaders in a month, following their meeting at the annual G8 summit of industrialised nations in Germany next week.

Relations between Washington and Moscow have continued to deteriorate since Mr Putin lambasted US foreign policy in a February speech to an elite group of security experts, including Robert Gates, the new US defence secretary, in Munich.

US officials argue that its missile defence shield – consisting of 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic – would defend Europe and the US from Iranian missiles.

Moscow believes the US is overstating the future potential threat from Iran. It is also concerned the missile defence installation would require stationing US troops in Poland. Senior Russian generals have raised tensions over the issue by warning Poland that any missile interceptor site could be targeted by Russian missiles.

Mr Gates met Mr Putin in Moscow in April in an attempt to mollify Russian concerns about the system. But following the meetings, Russian officials renewed opposition to the plans.

Russia this week tested new strategic and tactical rockets, which it said could respectively evade and destroy the US anti-missile system. Moscow has expressed increasing concern in recent months over what it calls US unilateralism in foreign affairs, and raised questions over Russia’s future membership of two arms control treaties from the cold war era.

Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesman, said the Kremlin welcomed the US invitation. “The agenda is so extensive there is more than enough for two meetings,” he said. “Every new meeting of the two presidents is an opportunity to eliminate misunderstandings and create an atmosphere of mutual confidence,” he said.

Mr Putin was the first head of state to visit Mr Bush’s ranch in Texas after he became US president in 2001 – a meeting that prompted Mr Bush’s famous remark that he had “looked the man in the eye” and got “a sense of his soul”.


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