Kremlin Signals Intent To Wait for Bush to Go

Moscow signaled over the weekend that relations with Washington will come to a virtual standstill until President-elect Barack Obama assumes office in January, rejecting new U.S. proposals on missile defense and nuclear arms reduction.

President Dmitry Medvedev also spoke by telephone with Obama, and the two agreed to meet soon, possibly at a summit on the global financial crisis in Washington this week, the Kremlin said.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday that Moscow was not satisfied with new U.S. proposals on missile defense and nuclear arms reduction and that positions expressed earlier by Obama provided hope for a "more constructive" approach.

"We have paid attention to the positions that Barack Obama has published on his site. They instill hope that we can examine these questions in a more constructive way," Lavrov said after an 80-minute meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the sidelines of a Middle East peace conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Lavrov said there would be further consultations on defense issues with the United States this year but suggested that any final agreements would likely come only after the Obama administration takes office on Jan. 20.

Rice met with Lavrov in an effort to ease escalating tensions in the waning weeks of the administration of President George W. Bush -- tensions that have grown over the Bush administration's plan to set up elements of a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Washington says the shield is aimed at countering any threat from Iran's ballistic missile program.

Few details about the United States' new proposals have been released. John Rood, acting U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control, said Thursday that one proposal included new ideas about allowing Russian observers at the planned U.S. missile-defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. The other proposal, he said, involves a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as START, which expires at the end of next year. Rood said the proposal envisioned further reductions in the two countries' nuclear weapons capabilities.

Washington sent the START proposal two weeks ago, while the suggestions on missile-defense cooperation were offered right before Medvedev's state-of-the-nation speech Wednesday, in which he threatened to deploy missiles to Kaliningrad in response to the U.S. missile-defense plans, Rood said.

"Some of the comments that President Medvedev made with regard to the U.S. missile-defense system were unfortunate," Rood said. "We have heard some of those threats before."

In his speech, Medvedev threatened to deploy Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, "to neutralize, if necessary, a missile-defense system."

Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said Sunday that Moscow would not carry out the threat to deploy missiles if Washington scrapped its plans to deploy the missile system. "These measures will only be implemented if the U.S. missile-defense system is deployed," Grushko said, Interfax reported.

It was unclear whether Medvedev and Obama discussed missile defense Saturday in their telephone conversation, one of a series of calls that Obama has made to world leaders since winning the U.S. election on Nov. 4.

A Kremlin statement said Obama and Medvedev "expressed the determination to create constructive and positive interaction for the good of global stability and development" and agreed that their countries had a common responsibility to address "serious problems of a global nature."

To that end, according to the Kremlin statement, Medvedev and Obama believe that an "early bilateral meeting" should be arranged.

A Kremlin spokesman said the meeting might take place on the sidelines of the financial crisis summit in Washington on Nov. 15.

Obama has not confirmed whether he will attend the summit, and his office did not issue a statement describing the call with Medvedev.

But Obama made no commitment on the missile shield plan during a phone call with Polish President Lech Kaczynski, Obama foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough said Saturday.

"His position is as it was throughout the campaign, that he supports deploying a missile-defense system when the technology is proved to be workable," McDonough said.

During the presidential campaign, Obama expressed skepticism about the missile-defense system, saying it would require much more vigorous testing to ensure that it would work and justify the billions of dollars it would cost.

AP, Reuters, MT