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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Missile Shield Proves a Tough Sell in Moscow

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates came to Moscow on Monday to press Washington's case for a missile defense system in Europe, but he met with a chilly reception from Russian officials.

"The days of the Cold War are over and no one should seek a return to them," Gates said. "We invite Russia to join our defensive endeavor as a partner."

After meeting with Gates, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov made clear that Russia had not altered its opposition to the U.S. plan to place elements of the missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland.

"The strategic missile defense system is a serious destabilizing factor that could have a significant impact on regional and global security," Serdyukov said, Interfax reported.

Gates responded by reiterating Washington's position that the system would protect against attacks from "potential aggressors" in the Middle East and Asia, a thinly veiled reference to Iran and North Korea.

The United States is currently in talks to deploy 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar installation in the Czech Republic by 2012 at a cost of $3.5 billion.

Gates then met for just under one hour with President Vladimir Putin. An official who briefed reporters said Putin and Gates had a "serious and principled" discussion, Reuters reported.

Gates said he had come out of Monday's meetings with a feeling of "cautious optimism," Interfax reported.

Putin later discussed the missile defense system in a telephone conversation with U.S. President George W. Bush.

In a brief statement posted on its web site, the Kremlin said Putin and Bush had touched on the results of Gates' negotiations in Moscow and expressed their satisfaction with the strengthening of Russian-U.S. ties along different lines."

Putin and Bush will meet on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Germany this June, the statement said.

Gates' first meeting with Putin as secretary of defense was in Munich earlier this year, when the president offered scathing criticism of U.S. foreign and military policy, singling out the missile defense system, among other issues.

Gates was among the top U.S. officials who fired back at Putin, mentioning "some Russian policies that seem to work against international stability, such as its arms transfers and its temptation to use energy resources for political coercion."

Putin and other top officials have repeatedly questioned the need for a missile shield in Europe. Senior military officials have said that while the planned system poses no threat to Russian security, it could be expanded in the future.

Washington has offered to allow Russian officials to tour the planned facilities and has floated the idea of cooperation with Moscow.

Gates raised this possibility again on Monday, telling reporters he was willing to explore sharing missile defense technology with Russia, such as data from early warning systems.

"When both the United States and Russia work together, both countries and others win. When we fail to work together, both countries may lose," Gates said in comments carried by Reuters.

A U.S. official traveling with Gates made clear that Washington would push forward with the project regardless of Russia's response, however.

"We're going to continue to make this effort with Russia, but we're also very clear, whether Russia cooperates with us or not is really up to Russia," Reuters quoted the official as saying.

On Monday, Serdyukov did not limit himself to criticizing the U.S. plan. He also expressed Moscow's concern over U.S. plans to convert intercontinental ballistic missiles to carry conventional warheads.

"These plans cannot help but cause concern, because if used in combat, the missiles' trajectories would be in the immediate vicinity of Russia's borders," he said, Interfax reported.

Ivan Safranchuk, head of the Moscow office of the Center for Defense Information, said he expected no breakthroughs during Gates' visit or future negotiations on the missile defense system.

He said Russia would not accept the U.S. offer to cooperate on the missile shield, because in the long term the system is planned to become global, thereby undermining Russia's strategic deterrence capability.

Safranchuk said the United States would eventually deploy the installations in the Czech Republic and Poland over Russia's opposition, and that Moscow could use this as an excuse to opt out of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Russia would not withdraw from the treaty, however, until it was sure of convincing the United States to sign an extension of START-1.

Moscow has repeatedly called on Washington to negotiate a new treaty to replace START-1, which sets limits on strategic delivery systems for nuclear warheads.

Gates will leave for Poland and Germany on Tuesday morning to discuss the results of his Moscow talks with NATO allies.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to visit Moscow in May. She will first hold talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on April 26 in Oslo during a meeting of the foreign ministers of Russia-NATO Council member countries.

The foreign ministers are scheduled to discuss the missile defense system as well as possible joint development of a regional missile defense with Russia.