US offers to delay shield if Russia cooperates

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PRAGUE, Oct 23 (Reuters) The United States has proposed delaying the activation of parts of its missile defence shield if Russia cooperates on the project, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today.

Gates said the possible delay was one of the proposals he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put forward in talks with Russian officials to try to ease Moscow's concern and win its cooperation in controversial US plans for a missile defence system in Europe.

''We continue to encourage the Russians to partner with us in missile defence and to continue our efforts to reassure them that these facilities are not aimed at Russia and could benefit Russia,'' he said.

Gates also said activation of the missile shield, whose components are planned to be sited in Poland and the Czech Republic, would depend on ''definitive proof'' of a threat from Iran.

''We would consider tying together the activation of the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic with definitive proof of the threat, in other words, Iranian missile testing and so on,'' Gates said.

''We have not fully developed this proposal, but the idea was we would go forward with the negotiations, we would complete the negotiations, we would develop the sites, build the sites but perhaps we would delay activating them until there was concrete proof of the threat from Iran,'' he told reporters in Prague.

The Americans also offered to allow the Russians to maintain a presence at the Czech site, in order to promote transparency. But Gates said such an agreement would not be completed without Prague's approval.

''Nothing will be done without consent of the Czech government,'' he said after meeting the prime minister and minister of defence.

The United States plans to place interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic as part of a shield Washington says is needed to counter possible attacks from ''rogue states'' including Iran and North Korea.

Russia argues the system would be a threat to its security and has warned Washington and Europe against it.

US negotiations are ongoing with both the Czech Republic and Poland. Talks with Poland may be delayed after this weekend's elections brought to power a new party that has promised tougher negotiations over the US plans.

REUTERS SZ PM1902

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