U.S. Takes Steps to Boost Security Cooperation With Russia

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 31, 2009

The United States is moving to deepen security cooperation with Russia as part of the Obama administration's effort to "reset" relations with Moscow, senior officials told Congress on Thursday.

This week, a team of military experts went to Moscow for the first round of discussions on an early warning center that would assess the threat of ballistic missiles, including any from Iran or North Korea, the officials said. U.S. and Russian officials are also planning to hold talks in October to lay the groundwork for extensive military programs next year.

"Hopefully, through this joint threat assessment, we can begin to chip away at some of the Russian misperceptions" about U.S. plans for missile defense elements in Europe, Alexander Vershbow, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, told members of the House Armed Services Committee.

Vershbow, a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, said Russian "elites" exhibit "paranoia and worst-case assessments" about the U.S. plan to put a radar in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptors in Poland, but he added that dialogue could help soften those views.

Vershbow said that the highest priority for President Obama in recent talks with the Russians was Afghanistan, and that securing Moscow's agreement to allow the transit of U.S. troops and weapons through Russian air space was an important achievement. "The Russians, I think, recognize that they, too, have a stake in defeating the Taliban and establishing a stable, democratic Afghanistan," Vershbow said.

He added that although Russia does not have a military presence in Afghanistan, it is participating in that country's counternarcotics programs, training Afghan police at a center in Moscow, and repairing Soviet-era bridges and tunnels that are improving access for commercial goods heading in and out of Afghanistan.

Officials said U.S. and Russian security interests overlap on nonproliferation and thwarting Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"I think we've seen cooperation with Russia on this issue and then other areas where they've been less helpful," said Philip Gordon, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.

He said that although some officials in Washington and in other capitals are concerned about Moscow's relations with Iran, "Russia has refrained from moving forward with what would be really considered more destabilizing arms transfers to Iran or steps in the nuclear area that would be provocative to us and others."

There remain disagreements between Russia and the United States, such as over U.S. support for Georgia and the enlargement of NATO.

"The predominant view in Russia is that they're better off dominating their neighbors, even if that means instability than accepting the choices of those neighbors -- unfortunately," Gordon said.

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