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Russian president sees Obama flexible on missile defense

Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Lima (AFP) Nov 23, 2008
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Sunday he believed US president-elect Barack Obama could change Washington's position over a hotly contested plan for a US missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.

Asked if he saw a chance of a shift on the issue under Obama, Medvedev told reporters: "I think there are chances, because if the position of the current administration on this question looks extremely inflexible, the position of the president-elect looks more careful."

Striking a positive note about relations with the next US administration, Medvedev referred to the Obama team's refusal so far to establish its position on missile defense, after Poland claimed the matter was already decided and the project would go ahead.

"It shows at least our future American partners are thinking about this.

"They don't have a once-and-for-always prepared template for solving this problem.

"It means dialogue is possible.... A change of position is possible," Medvedev said.

The Russian leader was speaking at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Lima, at which he met US President George W. Bush on Saturday.

Washington insists the proposed missile defense facilities to be established in the Czech Republic and Poland are directed purely at "rogue states" such as Iran and not against Russia's vast arsenal.

Medvedev earlier this month announced he would deploy Iskander missiles to the western exclave of Kaliningrad in response to the US plans, although he has indicated this could be reversed in the event of a US change of heart.

On Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed Russia wanted a complete abandonment of the US plans and said US promises to ease Russian concerns had so far been empty.

"There has been no easing of our concerns," Lavrov told reporters, adding that Russia would set out its formal position at talks in December.

"Our concerns can only be removed by one thing -- the renunciation of plans for unilateral establishment of a missile defense system and an agreement to work together from scratch," he said.

Putin urges Obama to halt missile shield plan
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin Monday urged US president-elect Barack Obama to drop the planned US missile shield in Eastern Europe, warning of an "adequate response" from Moscow.

"This project is aimed against the strategic potential of Russia. And we can only give it an adequate response," Putin said at a conference on human rights law in Saint Petersburg.

But he added: "If there are not missile defence sites in Poland and the Czech Republic -- there will be no retaliatory measures either."

Obama, who takes office on January 20, has yet to give firm details over whether he intends to continue the plan which was created by the outgoing administration of Republican President George W. Bush.

Putin said that if the new Obama administration was prepared to drop the plan, then "by itself, the question of our retaliatory measures would be dropped."

"Then we can break the dangerous, negative trend on the European continent," he said.

He warned that if the missile shield was built, "it is clear that the one who loses, above all, is Europe."

Earlier this month Moscow raised alarm in Western capitals by warning it could place missiles in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, close to Poland, in response to the plan.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said at the weekend that while the Bush administration's position looked "extremely inflexible" then "the position of the president-elect looks more careful."

Russia has repeatedly expressed fury over US plans to place a missile defence radar system in the Czech Republic and linked interceptor missiles in Poland.

In a candid interview with the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov did not directly comment on the missile shield but said he expected no major changes under Obama.

"The inertia of American foreign policy is a reality on which the whole world has to count," he said.

"I do not expect a miracle and still less hasty decisions on the questions that are important for us."

He was also downbeat on the chances of a change if speculation is confirmed that former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton becomes Barack Obama's secretary of state.

The holders of such posts "are members of an elite who by definition and in their relations with Russia can only be linked to policies which to a large extent do not suit Russia," he said.

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Washington (UPI) Nov 21, 2008
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