Russia, U.S. fail to agree on missile shield

(Reuters) - Russia and the United States failed on Tuesday to agree on Washington's plans to deploy parts of a missile defense shield in eastern Europe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates had also produced no agreement on how to replace a Cold War-era pact on long-range nuclear weapons when it expires.

Announcing the failure to agree, Lavrov told a news conference: "...I mean first and foremost on the missile shield plan and the future of the START treaty after it expires next year."

Moscow opposes the missile defense shield, saying its deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic would threaten Russia's security. Washington says it is needed as protection against "rogue states," meaning Iran.

Despite these failures at the talks in Moscow, Rice said the meetings had been useful and the two sides had agreed to negotiate a strategic framework agreement governing all aspects of their relationship.

Rice and Gates met Lavrov and Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov after seeing President Vladimir Putin and president-elect Dmitry Medvedev on Monday.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the United States had proposed a document to Russia setting out priority areas for long-term discussion and the sides were discussing it.

"It lays out a series of issues that we believe we should be focusing on, working together on now as our governments transition in the coming months and as new administrations take shape," Morrell said.

Putin referred to the document on Monday, when he said President George W. Bush had sent him a letter which offered a chance to improve relations.

Diplomatic relations between the United States and Russia have hit a post-Cold War low although trade between them increased to $17.5 billion last year, from $15 billion in 2006, and U.S. companies have invested heavily in Russia.

The sides differ strongly over the missile shield, Kosovo's independence from Russian ally Serbia and the war in Iraq. Washington has also criticized what it calls an erosion of civil liberties, media freedoms and democratic norms under Putin.

Russia has hoped to persuade Gates and Rice, who were making their second trip to Russia in five months, to agree to a formal document to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) treaty which expires next year.

Washington says the treaty, which limits long-range nuclear weapons, is too long and onerous and an exact replacement is not needed.

As at similar meetings in the past between U.S. and Russian foreign and defense ministers, there was little progress on the main problems and the two sides said they had maintained their positions.

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