( dpa ) - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates will travel to Russia later this month to address the dispute between the two countries over US plans to base a missile-defence system in Eastern Europe, the White House confirmed Wednesday.
Rice and Gates will be in Moscow March 17 and 18 to meet with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov in another round of discussions aimed at resolving differences about the plans, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said.
They will also explore reducing nuclear arsenals, cooperation on non-proliferation, counterterrorism and preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Perino said.
President George W Bush and President Vladimir Putin agreed to hold the meetings in a telephone call last week, she said. The last such meeting took place in October.
The plan to deploy a missile-defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic has been the thorniest of numerous tense disputes between the United States and Russia.
The United States wants to base the system in Eastern Europe by 2013 to protect against Iran's growing ballistic missile capability. Russia believes the system would threaten its nuclear deterrent and has warned it could target the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. Washington says the system is too small to fend off Russia's hundreds of nuclear missiles.
Bush met with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on Monday and signalled the two countries were nearing an agreement to base 10 interceptor missiles in Poland. The United States is also "very close" to an agreement with the Czech Republic to host the system's radar.
Poland wants the United States to help it modernize its air defences in return for allowing Washington to place missiles on its soil. Bush said he has agreed to do so, but the details need to be worked out in separate negotiations.