US optimistic on missile talks with Russia

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WASHINGTON, Oct 5 (Reuters) The United States wants to address Russian security concerns about its plans to deploy a missile defense system in eastern Europe in high-level Kremlin talks next week, a senior U.S. official said today.

The United States and Russia have been at odds for months over Washington's plans to deploy a European missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland, which Moscow says will hurt its national interests.

With Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates heading to Moscow next week to discuss the dispute, US officials sounded conciliatory and anxious to avoid a crisis.

Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, Daniel Fried, told reporters Russia's counter-proposals on missile defense were ''interesting,'' adding that the two nations and NATO should work on a common system.

Washington argues it needs the shield to defend against missiles possibly launched by ''rogue states'' such as Iran but Moscow fears the system is intended to spy on Russia.

Fried said Washington wanted Russia, NATO and the United States to work on a common system or network of systems that boosted everyone's security and addressed Russian concerns.

''If they're (Russia) part of a system, they can be much more confident that it is not directed against them,'' he said.

President Vladimir Putin has proposed a Russian-operated radar station at Qabala in Azerbaijan as an alternative to deploying the shield in the Czech Republic and Poland. The Pentagon has so far said Qabala is not a substitute.

''We find the Russian proposals quite interesting, forward- looking, and (they) open the possibility of serious strategic cooperation on missile defense,'' said Fried.

''We have told the Russians that their proposal to offer a radar site in Azerbaijan, the Qabala radar site, and perhaps a radar site in southern Russia itself, opened up a possibility of having genuinely collaborative efforts on missile defense directed at common problems.'' He said experts believed that radar stations in Azerbaijan and the Czech Republic could provide far more reliable coverage of Iranian ballistic missiles than either would on its own, but it was not a ''perfect fit.'' ''We ought to try to find ways of combining our systems so that Russian security concerns are answered and not ignored. So we hope to be able to discuss some of these things,'' he said.

He said placement of the radar systems was dictated by geography, not politics.

''If you place them in other places, you get less coverage of Europe. Poland and the Czech Republic are ideal, given the geography and the geometry,'' he said.

REUTERS SBA AS0212

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