U.S. Envoy Indicates Flexibility With Russia on Missile Defense

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 14, 2009

A more cooperative relationship with Russia that helps reduce the nuclear threat from Iran would be "one of the factors" influencing the Obama administration's decision on when and whether to install a missile defense system in eastern Europe, a senior U.S. diplomat said this week.

"The United States is quite open to the possibility of new forms of cooperation" on a defense shield, and is "interested in a thorough discussion of the whole range of security issues with Russia," Undersecretary of State William Burns said on a visit to Moscow.

"If through strong diplomacy with Russia and our other partners we can reduce or eliminate that threat, it obviously shapes the way at which we look at missile defense," Burns said.

His comments followed an offer last week by Vice President Biden to push a "reset button" on relations with Russia following a lengthy period of contention over missile defense and a range of other issues. In an interview with the Russian Interfax news agency at the end of his visit late Thursday, Burns, a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, said the administration hopes to take advantage of "this moment of opportunity . . . to try to translate those good intentions and that positive rhetoric into practical progress."

An administration official in Washington called Burns's remarks, which were posted on the U.S. Embassy Web site in Moscow, "entirely consistent with the way we've been talking about missile defense and trying to engage the Russians. If we're able to work with the Russians to diminish the threat from Iran, we need to consider how to proceed with potential deployment of the systems."

Russia sharply protested agreements signed by the Bush administration to install missile defense components in Poland and the Czech Republic, charging that the program was a threat to its own security. Obama has said he is reviewing the Bush-initiated defense shield to determine if it is technologically feasible and affordable.

Burns extended the olive branch even further than Biden in the wide-ranging interview. He said President Obama is looking forward to what will be his first meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a G-8 summit in London in early April, and that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will meet with her Russian counterpart "in the very near future," before the London summit.

Among the range of issues on which the United States was interested in cooperating with Russia, Burns mentioned nuclear proliferation, Afghanistan, global economic issues and "ways in which we can structure our relationship in ensuring that we work together more systematically."

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