Putin sees US change on missile defence

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TEHRAN, Oct 16 (Reuters) Russian President Vladimir Putin, using unusually positive language, said today there had been a ''certain transformation'' in the US position on missile defence and added that talks would continue.

''The latest contacts with the American partners showed that there is a certain transformation in their position and we will continue the dialogue,'' Putin said in an interview with Iranian media released to Russian journalists travelling with him.

Putin did not give further details, but he held talks in Moscow at the end of last week with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

He used the same interview to criticise NATO, saying the US-led alliance's expansion to include former Soviet satellites in eastern Europe was ''harmful.'' On the missile defence system, Putin repeated Russia's position that it does not see an identifiable threat to justify the project.

But he did accept that his country should work with both the United States and Europe to overcome differences.

The United States plans to place 10 interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic under the project.

''We are having a difficult dialogue with the United States and European partners on missile defence. If we need to create a missile defence, then it should be done together, based on certain principles,'' he said.

Putin said that the United States and Russia must create a transparent system and agree on how it would operate.

He said NATO was an alliance created as part of the West's Cold War stand-off with the Soviet Union. Bit it had not reformed itself to address modern threats such as international terrorism and drug trafficking.

''Somehow we are not witnessing rapid changes in the philosophy and structure of NATO. A lot is being said about this but there are no real changes,'' Putin was quoted as saying in the interview.

''We are certainly concerned over military infrastructure drawing closer to our borders,'' he said.

''We think that this is simply harmful. All of this does not facilitate the emergence of an atmosphere of trust in the world and Europe,'' he said.

Most former Warsaw Pact states including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have joined NATO since the fall of the Iron Curtain, as have the three ex-Soviet republics in the Baltics.

Ex-Soviet Georgia and Ukraine, have expressed an interest in joining, causing unease among Russian officials.

REUTERS RSA RAI2351

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