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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Late U.S. Offer Follows Chilly Talks

MTPutin meeting Friday with Gates and Rice at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence.
A weekend visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates failed to resolve tensions between Washington and Moscow, lowering hopes that relations will be mended before Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush leave office.

But the U.S. side did make a last-minute offer on the issues of missile defense and arms control, saying later that the proposal was received positively in private talks with Russian officials.

In public, the two-day visit was full of signs that relations continue to be poor, as Putin warned his American guests to back off their plan to install a missile defense system in Central Europe or risk further harming relations with Moscow.

"We might decide some day to set up a missile defense system on the moon, but until then, the opportunity for an agreement might be lost while you are realizing your own plans," he said in a sharp speech Friday that was posted on the Kremlin's web site.

Putin also warned that Russia could withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty if the pact is not applied to other countries, especially those near Russia's borders. Signed in 1987 by the United States and the Soviet Union, the treaty banned the deployment of nuclear and conventional ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

Before meeting Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo presidential residence outside Moscow on Friday, Rice and Gates were left waiting for more than half an hour.

Later, Rice and Gates held five hours of talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.

At a joint news conference for the participants afterward, Lavrov said that if the United States does not freeze its missile defense plans while the issue is still under discussion, Russia would "take measures to neutralize that threat."

Serdyukov said the United States' plans contained "a strong anti-Russian component."

The Pentagon is planning to install 10 missile interceptor systems in Poland and a missile-tracking radar site in the Czech Republic to provide protection from long-range missiles launched by

what it calls "rogue" states, and Iran in particular.

Moscow says the system could undermine its nuclear deterrent and could even develop offensive capabilities. It has offered the United States the use of radar sites in the southern city of Armavir and another that it leases in Azerbaijan, but demands a freeze of the U.S. plans in Central Europe in exchange.

During the talks, Rice and Gates proposed an integrated system that would involve liaison officers from both sides stationed at each site. Neither Lavrov nor Serdyukov appeared impressed, and Lavrov said only that the proposals needed more study.

After leaving Moscow, Gates downplayed the uncompromising public positions as "mainly theater," arguing that the tenor of private talks was much more constructive.

Speaking to reporters on his way back to Washington, Gates said the Russian reaction was in keeping with past behavior when dealing with unexpected proposals.

"When they're hit with new ideas, they basically go to a default position of a defensive crouch until they really have time to think about it and consider it," Gates said, Bloomberg reported.

He added that Putin and the other Russian officials "clearly were intrigued by some of the things we put on the table,'' adding that the Russian leader appeared particularly interested in what Gates described as a detailed proposal for a U.S.-Russian partnership on a system to counter ballistic missiles launched by third countries.

But Ivan Safranchuk, head of the Moscow office of the World Security Institute, said the United States was making a mistake by not accepting Moscow's proposals. He dismissed the U.S. position that the sites offered by Russia were technically insufficient, arguing that Washington was acting on political motives by involving Poland and the Czech Republic, both former Soviet-bloc nations that joined NATO after the collapse of communism.

He added that both Putin's threat of withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe would mainly hurt Washington's European allies. "They will have to suffer for the U.S.," he said in a telephone interview Sunday.

Safranchuk said it would be easy for Russia to build up a new intermediate-range nuclear weapon potential based on the Iskander missile system.

Alexander Pikayev, an independent defense analyst based in Moscow, had a more positive take on the visit.

"The main point is that both sides agreed to continue their cooperation," he said, adding that positions would have to budge on both sides if there was to be any serious progress.

His words were echoed by those of Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who told reporters that concrete results should not have been expected from the visit and that the emphasis was on ensuring that discussion continued.

In a highly unusual visit, Gates addressed students at the Military Academy of the General Staff on Saturday, telling them that much of the inspiration for the U.S. military's modernization in the 1980s came from Moscow.

He said the seeds of U.S. combat successes in the 1991 Gulf War were sown a decade earlier when the Soviet military made advances in the use of sensors, reconnaissance and command-and-control systems to gain a battlefield edge.

Speaking to an audience of senior officers and generals, Gates said the current transformation of the U.S. military was a relevant example for Russia as it seeks to professionalize its army.

n Rice and Gates also met with top government members late Friday, dining with Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov and First Deputy Prime Ministers Sergei Ivanov and Dmitry Medvedev, all three of whom are regularly mentioned as presidential hopefuls.

On a visit to a Moscow ice rink Saturday, Rice, a former Soviet affairs scholar and competitive skater, chatted briefly in Russian with a young figure skater, although hopes that she would take to the ice were dashed.

She later said this was because of a lack of skates and rustiness. "You have no idea how carefully skates are fitted to your particular foot," she told reporters, adding that she had not been on the ice in 10 years.