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US And Russia Hold High-Level Talks Amid Rise In Bilateral Tensions

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Photo courtesy AFP.Putin vows 'effective' response to US missile plans
Moscow (AFP) Feb 1 - President Vladimir Putin on Thursday vowed Russia would come up with a "highly effective" response to US plans to set up an anti-missile defence system in Central Europe. "Our response will be asymmetrical but highly effective," Putin said. Russia already has a type of missile, the Topol-M, that can penetrate the planned US defence shield, which would include a radar and interceptor missiles, Putin said.

"But we're not stopping there... We are talking about a completely new system of strategic weapons controlled by hypersound," which allows missiles to change course rapidly, he added. The United States earlier this month confirmed plans to start talks with the Czech Republic and Poland to deploy an anti-missile defence system that Washington says will guard against potential attacks from Iran and North Korea. The Russian foreign ministry has called the plan "mistaken" and officials have said the system is aimed against Russia, arguing that missile trajectories from Iran and North Korea do not go over the Czech Republic and Poland.

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 01, 2007
The US and Russia hold high-level talks this week amid a spike in tensions between the former Cold War adversaries over issues ranging from Iran and Iraq to missile defenses and human rights concerns under President Vladimir Putin. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov kick off the talks with a dinner on Thursday then will hold a second meeting Friday on the sidelines of a gathering of the so-called Quartet of Middle East mediators, her spokesman Sean McCormack said.

McCormack described a crowded agenda for the discussions between Rice and Lavrov, who last met during a Middle East conference on Jordan's Dead Sea coast in late November.

"They are obviously going to talk about Quartet issues, but they have a lot of other US-Russia as well as multilateral issues that are on both of their plates," McCormack said.

The Quartet, comprised of the US, European Union, Russia and the United Nations, is due to discuss a new US initiative to break the deadlock in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

But the Rice-Lavrov meetings will also notably touch on Iran, US-backed plans for granting at least limited independence to Serbia's Kosovo province, tensions in former Soviet republics in the Caucasus and issues related to political and economic reform in Putin's Russia, McCormack said.

New tensions surfaced between Washington and Moscow last year during laborious negotiations over UN sanctions to impose on Iran for its refusal to freeze a uranium enrichment program Washington says is aimed ultimately at producing nuclear weapons.

The Russians, who have close economic ties to Iran and have questioned the US assertion Tehran is bent on building a nuclear arsenal, successfully fought to water down the sanctions ultimately adopted by the Security Council.

The sanctions, imposed in December, focussed only on Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, falling far short of US desires and leaving Rice exasperated with Moscow, according to diplomats familiar with the negotiations.

Since, Russia has bristled at President George W. Bush's increasingly aggressive stance towards Iran, which Washington also accuses of backing Islamic radicals fomenting unrest in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

Lavrov last month said he would specifically challenge Rice to explain a decision by Bush to deploy a second Navy carrier strike force off Iran and to provide anti-missile systems to Arab allies in the region -- moves seen by some as signs of possible US military action against Tehran.

Moscow has also complained about US efforts to isolate Iran financially by pressuring foreign banks and other businesses to curtail dealings with the country.

"Washington's hardline policy concerning Iran foresees ... much tougher sanctions than those called for in the last UN Security Council resolution," Lavrov said.

"We would like to get an explanation on what stands behinds this," he said.

Lavrov has urged the United States to include Iran and Syria in a wider Middle East peace process, something Bush and Rice have refused to do.

Rice, for her part, regularly criticizes Putin's human rights record and the steady concentration of economic and political power in the Kremlin under his rule.

Other contentious issues between the two governments include US efforts to deploy part of an anti-missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic -- something a Russian general last month said would pose a direct threat to Russia.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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China Takes A Few Shots In The Dark
Washington (UPI) Jan 29, 2007
China is making geopolitical hay while the sun isn't shining for America. Chinese leaders have seen President Bush's approval ratings continue a downward slide all over the world, according to the BBC's latest universal survey. More important, previous public opinion polls showed China with a better image than America in friendly European countries -- with the notable exception of Poland.

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