Moscow (AFP) Nov 9, 2008
Russia's decision to deploy missiles in its western territory of Kaliningrad is an internal affair in which the United States has no say, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying Sunday.
"I don't think the United States has any relation whatsoever to deployment of Russian systems on Russian territory," ITAR-TASS news agency quoted Lavrov as saying after talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Egypt.
President Dmitry Medvedev announced the move to deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian territory between Poland and Lituania, last Wednesday.
He made it clear it was in response to US plans to set up new missile defences in eastern Europe over Russia's strident objections.
The move drew criticism from the West, with the United States calling it "disappointing" and Germany saying it was "the wrong message at the wrong time."
Lavrov however offered a strikingly upbeat assessment of his talks with Rice in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, a high-level encounter between the two countries whose ties have grown frosty especially since the August war in Georgia.
Lavrov said he was "satisfied" with his conversation with Rice, ITAR-TASS said, adding that the two sides had agreed to get back to working together on big international issues of common interest despite sharp differences on some.
He said Russia and the United States would focus on implementing ideas in the Sochi Declaration -- a document of guiding principles for bilateral relations signed in April by outgoing US President George W. Bush and then-Russian president Vladimir Putin in the Russian resort city of Sochi.
"We have agreed that the principles of the declaration on the necessity to conduct affairs on an equal basis are important," Lavrov said.
"So it is necessary, without diminishing the existing disagreements on various issues, not to let these disagreements be an impediment to interaction in the areas where our interests coincide."
Lavrov said he told Rice that it was Washington that had decided to "freeze" cooperation with Russia in a number of areas in the wake of the brief war last August between Russia and Georgia, a key US ally in the Caucasus region.
"I have met understanding from Condoleezza Rice that it is necessary to resume interaction in all areas," Lavrov said, citing in particular joint efforts to fight terrorism and curb nuclear proliferation.
"There is goodwill from the Russian side at present. I'm glad that the American side also displayed such an attitude."
earlier related report
Analysts see the threats as amounting to loose rhetoric and do not expect a showdown that will test Obama during his first six months in office after his inauguration as president on January 20.
Instead, they said, Russia has fallen into its own trap by issuing bellicose remarks at a time when the world overwhelmingly welcomed the US election of its first black president and an end to eight years of President George W. Bush.
"The Russians created a problem for themselves and it's now up to them to figure out how they get themselves out of this hole," said Rose Gottemoeller, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
"Like a sulky teenager, you don't want to have to deal with them," Gottemoeller told AFP. "For the Obama team, they're going to say 'if they don't want to play, well, fine, we have other things to do right now.'"
Gottemoeller, speaking on a trip back to Washington, said Obama ranked the economic crisis, Iraq and Afghanistan as higher priorities than managing the difficult relationship with Russia, even if the latter remained important.
Hours after Obama's victory on Wednesday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced plans to deploy Iskander short-range missiles in the western Russian territory of Kaliningrad, wedged between Lithuania and Poland, in response to US plans for a missile shield in former Soviet bloc territory.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski said later that Obama had told him in a telephone call that "the anti-missile shield project would go ahead" in which 10 missile interceptors are set up in Poland under a deal signed August 14.
But Obama's foreign policy advisor Dennis McDonough said the president-elect "made no commitment" on the shield during his conversation with the Polish president.
"His position is as it was throughout the campaign, that he supports deploying a missile defense system when the technology is proved to be workable," McDonough said.
An angry Russia says the planned interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic will threaten its own security, even though Washington insists they would be aimed at "rogue" states like Iran and pose no threat to Russia.
John Rood, the US under secretary for arms control and international security who led negotiations for the missile shield, said he believed that the Obama administration recognized the need for the shield.
"In the statements I've seen, there's been a desire from the future administration to continue to pursue missile defense," Rood told reporters on Thursday.
Theresa Hitchens, director for the Center for Defense Information, said Medvedev's threat will backfire because the incoming Obama administration will probably have to take a tougher line on missile defense than it had wanted.
"It was a really stupid move on the part of the Russians, if they are really concerned about those missile sites going forward," Hitchens told AFP.
She believed that "the breaks would have been put" to those sites under an Obama administration, with a Democratic-controlled Congress that has been concerned about Russian reaction and the technology behind the plan.
Sarah Mendelson, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said "it's hard for me to believe that they (the Russians) are going to move quickly on this" deployment of short-range missiles.
"I hear Russian government officials make threats on a regular basis," Mendelson said, suggesting Medvedev's comments appear to amount to typical harsh rhetoric.
During the campaign, Obama's running mate Joseph Biden warned that an international crisis would test the new president within six months but Gottemoeller doubted one would come in the form of a showdown on missile defense.
"I don't see it coming from the Russians myself," Gottemoeller said.
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