Fri, Mar 30, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Putin voices concern over US missile defense system

AP , WASHINGTON

Russian President Vladimir Putin registered his concerns on Wednesday with US President George W. Bush about a planned US missile defense system in Central Europe in a conversation that highlighted strains between the two nations.

After the phone call, a White House spokesman said Bush emphasized to the Russian president that missile defenses in Europe were intended to protect against an evolving threat from the Middle East.

It is "a threat that we share in common with Europe and Russia," said Gordon Johndroe, the National Security Council spokesman.

According to the Kremlin, Bush expressed a willingness to discuss the project with Russia in detail in the interest of mutual security.

Putin last month accused the US of an over-reliance on force while the Bush administration has contended there are increasing authoritarian tendencies in Russia under Putin.

Johndroe said the leaders spoke about the importance of continuing their dialogue on Iran.

And, he said, "the presidents discussed the importance of continuing consultations at NATO on missile threats and defenses against them, and exploring options for further missile defense cooperation."

Putin, according to the Kremlin, said the Security Council vote adopting a new sanctions resolution against Iran has sent Iran a "serious political signal of the need for cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the international community." Putin also said the resolution "unambiguously rules out the use of force," the Kremlin said.

Kosovo also came up. Putin told Bush that any decision about its future needs approval from Serbia and Kosovo, the Kremlin said.

Russia opposes Kosovo being split off from Serbia as proposed by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari in a plan the Security Council is expected to discuss next month.

A senior analyst of US-Russia relations said the relationship between the two countries "is in serious trouble."

Despite Russia's support last Saturday for a UN resolution toughening sanctions on Iran for refusing to stop enriching uranium, "there are growing tensions and mistrust in both capitals," Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center, said in an interview.

"And it makes it more difficult to work together on nonproliferation and counterterrorism," Simes said.

He said his analysis of a decline was based partly on talks he had in Russia last month with several senior Russian officials, whose identities he withheld.

A major source of the tensions, Simes said, is US support for the independence of Kosovo despite Serbia's objections and Russia's insistence on additional negotiations.

As for Iran, Simes said Russia does not want to see it armed with nuclear weapons.

"But Russia also does not want to see a US military action against Iran, no matter what," Simes said.

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