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Putin Spells Out Security Worries In Bush Phone Call

US missile shield for Mideast threat, Bush tells Russia's Putin
Washington (AFP) March 28 - President George W. Bush told Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday that a planned US missile shield in Europe is to defend against Middle East threats, the White House said. "President Bush emphasized that missile defenses in Europe are intended to protect against the evolving ballistic missile threat from the Middle East -- a threat that we share in common with Europe and Russia," said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe. The United States is currently concerned about Iran's ballistic missiles. In what was a "thorough and open" phone conversation initiated by the White House, according to the Kremlin, the two men discussed their differences over the missile defense plans and the fate of the Serbian province of Kosovo. They also covered the Iranian nuclear standoff, especially the recent UN resolution aimed at increasing pressure on Tehran, the Kremlin said. Johndroe said the two leaders "discussed the importance of continuing consultations at NATO on missile threats and defenses against them, and exploring options for further missile defense cooperation." Russia has strongly objected to the US plans to place components of the shield in the Czech Republic and Poland as well as in one of the South Caucasus nations, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.
by Nick Coleman
Moscow (AFP) March 28, 2007
President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday spelt out Russia's concerns to US President George W. Bush over US plans for a missile defence shield in Europe and any imposed solution of Kosovo's future.

In what the Kremlin described as a "thorough and open" phone conversation initiated by the White House, the two men discussed their differences over the missile defence plans and the fate of the Serbian province.

They also covered the Iranian nuclear standoff, and in particular a recent UN resolution aimed at increasing pressure on Tehran.

Putin "set out the reasons for Russian concern about the US plans to create a base for an anti-missile system in Central Europe," the Kremlin said in a statement.

The statement said Putin had "noted with satisfaction" what it described as Bush's assurance that he was ready to discuss the issue in detail with the Russian side.

The dispute over the missile plan has come to encapsulate growing differences between Moscow and Washington on a range of security issues.

Russia has strongly objected to the US plans to place components of the shield in the Czech Republic and Poland as well as in one of the South Caucasus nations, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

All the proposed host countries were part of Moscow's sphere of influence in Soviet times.

The Czech Republic and Poland, now NATO members, have insisted on their right to make their own defence arrangements and Prague said Wednesday it would begin formal negotiations with Washington.

Washington says the missile defence system, which would include a radar system in the Czech Republic and interceptor rockets in Poland, is not directed against Russia and is needed to protect against "rogue states" such as Iran.

Putin also reiterated long-standing Russian objections to a UN-mediated plan for supervised independence for Kosovo, which has been under UN supervision since NATO's bombing of the then Yugoslavia in 1999.

"The Russian side confirmed its principled position against imposing on the sides any kinds of scenario -- so that a solution is worked out that would be acceptable both to Belgrade and Pristina," the statement said.

Russia, a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council and, has repeatedly objected to the independence plan put forward by UN mediator Martti Ahtisaari.

Moscow has insisted that any solution must be agreeable to Serbia as well as Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority, reflecting Russia's close ties with Serbia.

Russia strongly objected to the NATO bombing in 1999 to stop a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian guerrillas in Kosovo.

Belgrade has rejected independence for Kosovo, calling instead for more negotiations.

Ahtisaari's plan is to be debated next month by the Security Council, which must approve Kosovo's future status.

On Iran, the Kremlin described the recent UN resolution on Iran's nuclear programme as a "strong signal" that it should cooperate with the international community and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The statement noted that the resolution "unambiguously excludes the use of force" and stressed the need for a negotiated solution.

The conversation comes after Putin made clear the depth of Russia's differences with Washington in a speech last month in Munich that amounted to a full-frontal attack on US foreign policy.

In the speech Putin said Washington had "over-stepped its borders in all spheres."

earlier related report
US soothes worries over Europe missile shield
Washington (AFP) March 28 - The United States sought to soothe Europeans' worries Wednesday over plans to plant defense shields against Middle East missiles on their soil, and promised Russia it is not a target.

"President Bush emphasized that missile defenses in Europe are intended to protect against the evolving ballistic missile threat from the Middle East -- a threat that we share in common with Europe and Russia," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

His comment referred to a telephone conversation President George W. Bush Bush held Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Also in Washington, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Daniel Fried dismissed as "unfounded" what he said were concerns in Europe that the defense project heralded a new US-Russian arms race.

"The notion that somehow missile defense has to be seen as part of an emerging arms race between the United States and Russia ... is some of the odd commentary I heard from Europeans. It has no relationship with reality," Fried told journalists here.

Washington wants to build a radar system in the Czech Republic and put missiles in neighboring Poland to defend against what it says are potential attacks from "rogue" states such as Iran.

Russia has strongly objected to the US plans to place components of the system in the two countries and in one of the three South Caucasus nations -- Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia -- claiming the plans threaten Russian national security.

All the proposed host countries were part of Moscow's sphere of influence in Soviet times.

Fried recently visited several European countries to explain the shield project along with Henry Obering, the head of the US missile defense agency.

"I found the European debate to be a mixture of genuine interest in this new strategic challenge that Iran causes, genuine interest in discussing how missile defense can play a stabilizing role," Fried said.

"But (there are) some concerns which I found unfounded."

Obering said: "These are not offensive missiles, they do not even carry warheads. There are no explosives on these missiles."

"Missile defense is part of an entire tool box that we try to use to address the ballistic missile threat," he added. "We believe missile defense fits into a spectrum that includes deterrence and arms control measures."

The Kremlin earlier said Putin had spelt out Russia's concerns to Bush over the missile plans during their telephone call.

A Kremlin statement said Putin had "noted with satisfaction" what it described as Bush's assurance that he was ready to discuss the issue in detail with the Russian side.

The Czech Republic and Poland, now NATO members, have insisted on their right to make their own defense arrangements and Prague said Wednesday it would begin formal negotiations with Washington.

Public opinion in the Czech Republic and Poland generally opposes the project. The system, which the US wants to be operational by 2011, has also prompted concern by Slovakia, France, Germany, Austria and Spain.

Obering said he and Fried planned in the coming weeks to visit Spain, Turkey, Greece and Hungary and then return for further discussions on the matter with a NATO-Russia council.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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