Russia says no progress on U.S. missile shield

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MOSCOW, Sep 19 (Reuters) Moscow and Washington are no closer to resolving their differences over US plans for a missile shield in Europe despite talks on a compromise, a senior Russian diplomat said today.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak made the comment a day after US military experts inspected a Russian-operated radar station that President Vladimir Putin had offered as an alternative to the US shield.

''We have held two rounds of talks on the missile defence shield but I cannot say we have managed to make Russia's position any closer to that of the United States,'' Russian news agencies quoted Kislyak as saying.

The row over the missile shield has soured relations between Russia and NATO, and added to growing differences over security arrangements in Europe. Some observers say the disputes are reminiscent of the Cold War.

In a sign of growing assertiveness in its dealings with NATO, Putin decreed in July that Russia would suspend its compliance with the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty.

Earlier, Kislyak testified at a parliamentary commission on the treaty, which was signed in the dying days of the Cold War and restricts movements of troops, artillery, tanks and aircraft on either side of the old Iron Curtain.

''Our aim today is to give a signal, a serious signal, to our Western partners that things cannot go on like this,'' Kislyak said in his testimony.

''We are ready to work with them (Western partners) to solve these problems but if not, we will suspend our compliance with the treaty,'' Kislyak said, adding: ''Our decision is not aimed at confrontation but the opposite.'' Putin signed a decree in July suspending Russia's compliance. The suspension comes into force on December 12.

The impact of Moscow's move is likely to be more political than practical as Russian generals say they have no plans to move their forces westwards.

Some observers say Russia's stance on the CFE treaty is retaliation for the US missile shield plan, though Russian officials play down a link.

US inspectors yesterday visited the Qabala early warning radar station, which Russia leases from ex-Soviet Azerbaijan.

Putin offered the Pentagon access to data from the station about rocket launches from ''rogue states''.

Washington has expressed interest but has said the station is not a substitute for its shield.

''COLD WAR RELIC'' Moscow calls the 1990 CFE treaty a Cold War relic that imposes restrictions on the way it deploys troops inside its own borders while giving NATO free rein to build up its forces, including in ex-Soviet states that are now alliance members.

''The Warsaw Pact no longer exists. There is no Berlin Wall and no confrontation in Europe but these ... restrictions are still in existence,'' said Kislyak.

Russia has demanded that NATO states ratify an updated version of the treaty adopted in 1999, and start talks on a newer version that would include tightening restrictions on NATO force movements near Russia's borders.

NATO members have refused to ratify the latest version of the treaty because, they say, Russia has not withdrawn its forces from ex-Soviet Molodva and Georgia as it promised to do when the updated pact was signed.

REUTERS SG VC1740

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