Rice to visit Moscow with Gates, then tours West Asia

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WASHINGTON, Oct 4 (Reuters) The US secretaries of state and defense will visit Moscow on October 12-13 to discuss US plans to build a missile defense shield in Europe, the US State Department said today.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice then travels to Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt and Jordan in preparation for a West Asia peace conference that the United States plans to host later this year.

In Moscow, Rice and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and their Russian counterparts will discuss US plans to place 10 interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic as part of a shield designed to protect Europe from missile attacks by states such as Iran and North Korea.

Russia has said this would upset the strategic balance and pose a threat to its security. In July, Moscow proposed the two countries use a Russian-operated early warning radar in Azerbaijan as an alternative to the U.S. missile shield.

From Moscow, Rice will travel October 14-18 to the West Asia, where she will visit Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders. She also plans to visit Egypt on October 16 and Jordan on October 18.

The State Department said the talks were to support ''the ongoing efforts to lay a foundation for serious negotiations on the establishment of a Palestinian state as soon as possible.'' The US-hosted peace meeting, expected to take place in mid-November at the earliest, is the Bush administration's most high-profile attempt to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace.

REUTERS SBA AS0311

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