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Dialogue Of The Deaf Over ABM Plans

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said in Brussels that both NATO and the U.S. government had shown "maximum transparency" to Russia on their reasons and plans for building the new BMD installations in Central Europe, RIA Novosti reported.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) March 8, 2007
The United States has launched its diplomatic offensive to try and improve relations with Russia, especially on the thorny issue of building ballistic missile defense facilities in Central Europe. But it is proving to be a dialogue of the deaf.

The past week has seen heavy diplomatic activity on the ballistic missile defense front: The United States and NATO have been trying at high levels to persuade the Russian government that their plans to set up a U.S. radar installation in the Czech Republic and a ballistic missile interceptor base in Poland within the next five years are aimed only at Iran, North Korea and other possible "rogue states" with missile capabilities, not at them.

U.S. Ambassador to Moscow William Burns said during a visit to Siberia Tuesday that the U.S. and Russian governments should launch a new series of bilateral talks to explain their conflicting stands on BMD issues and to try and deal with their differences on them, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Burns repeated the Bush administration's position that building the ABM radar and interceptor installations to protect European nations from the threat of nuclear missiles launched by so-called "rogue" states would not endanger Russia's national security. He even offered the possibility that Washington and Moscow could start a new cycle of cooperation on BMD.

However, Burns also made other comments certain to anger the Kremlin. He said that the desire of two former Soviet republics, Georgia and Ukraine, to join the U.S.-led NATO alliance was an expression of the desire of the governments and populations of both nations. For the Russian government, openly alarmed at what it sees as continued, energetic U.S. efforts to reduce or destroy the Kremlin's remaining influence in its traditional home sphere of influence, the former Soviet republics, or "near abroad," those are incendiary comments.

Burns also referred to the NATO-Russia Council as a relevant mechanism to try and defuse conflicts between the two powers over such issues. But from the Russian point of view, this would have been regarded as just empty words or boilerplate rhetoric.

For the NATO-Russia Council has been in existence for many years and from the Russian perspective, it has served only as a platform for them to air their protests -- which they regard as always ignored -- about the steady encroachment of NATO bases, new alliance members and political influence among their former allies and even in countries that were part of Russia and the Soviet Empire for hundreds of years up to the disintegration of the Soviet union at the end of 1991.

Burns' comments indicated no softening of the U.S. position on BMD bases and on the growing drive in Ukraine and Georgia, both former Soviet republics, to join NATO - developments that would certainly infuriate the Kremlin.

The previous day (Monday) the head of the NATO alliance also sought to soothe Russia on the BMD issue. But his comments looked unlikely to cut any ice in Moscow.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said in Brussels that both NATO and the U.S. government had shown "maximum transparency" to Russia on their reasons and plans for building the new BMD installations in Central Europe, RIA Novosti reported.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rejected this line of argument the following day, when he claimed that the Kremlin was still pressing the U.S. government for answers about its missile defense plans.

"We are discussing the issue with our American colleagues and are asking them for answers to our questions and concerns, which are completely justified. Although meetings and briefings are being held on the issue, most of our questions have not received any clear answers," Lavrov said, according to another RIA Novosti report.

The Russian foreign minister said transparency and trust were needed to counter the dangers of uncertainty over future U.S. strategic intentions being generated through the Bush administration's BMD plans.

Lavrov said new U.S. strategic moves were being closely watched by the Kremlin. He said sometimes U.S. initiatives were made public before countries that would be involved had been informed of them.

The RIA Novosti report said that Russia was also concerned on March 1 when a senior U.S. Department of Defense official announced that the U.S. government "would like to station a radar base in the Caucasus."

"The announcement evoked suspicions in Moscow that Georgia could be a possible site. Georgian officials have denied the possibility," RIA Novosti said.

"The problem of strategic stability concerns everyone," Lavrov said. "It is not mere coincidence that calls are made in Europe, including by Germany, to discuss issues such as the deployment of the American missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic," he said.

Russia's most senior generals have already publicly served notice that the Kremlin is prepared to pull out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty, which has been a cornerstone of superpower détente since it was signed on Dec. 8, 1987.

"If a political decision is taken to quit the treaty, the Strategic Missile Forces are ready to carry out this task," SMF Commander Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov told a news conference in Moscow on Feb. 19.

And Russia's top serving soldier, four-star Army Gen. Yury Baluyevsky, the Chief of the Russian General Staff, warned Feb. 15, "It is possible for a party to abandon the (INF) treaty (unilaterally) if it provides convincing evidence that it is necessary to do so. We currently have such evidence."

The Russian message appears clear: Verbal reassurances alone will not dampen concern about the new BMD plans in Europe. Washington and Moscow remain on a collision course over the issue.

Source: United Press International

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