U.S.-Russian officials meet on missile shield offer

( Reuter )- U.S. and Russian security officials met in Washington on Thursday for talks the Bush administration hopes will lead Moscow to cooperate in a shield to defend against Iranian missiles.

The latest round of expert-level discussions, which started on Wednesday, comes a week after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates went to Moscow and offered to grant Russians access to shield sites in the Czech Republic and Poland.

The U.S. delegation submitted detailed written proposals to Russian officials at the end of the Moscow meetings.

"The Russians have had a week to study our proposed transparency and confidence building measures on missile defense. We very much look forward to hearing their reaction," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said there had been some progress in the discussions at the State Department, but declined to provide any specifics or say whether they had reached a deal.

"They have had some good discussions," he said.

The U.S. plan to place parts of a missile defense system in formerly Soviet-allied countries has been a major factor in the deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations in recent years. The dispute has pushed diplomatic relations to a post-Cold War low, although trade has been unaffected.

Washington says the system is needed to protect against growing capabilities of states such as Iran. But Moscow says the system could threaten Russia.

The latest American proposals under discussion are meant to convince Moscow that the missile defense system in eastern Europe would not be directed against Russia, U.S. officials said.

"The main issue there is to find a way, in concrete terms, to reassure Russia that the radar and missile installation that is planned in Poland and the Czech Republic are, as we say, about potential threats coming to Europe, coming to Russia, if you will, from the Middle East, and are not aimed at Russia," White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley said.

"We are trying to find a formula of measures which would give Russia some confidence on that," he said on Wednesday.

While the United States has offered Russian officials access to the sites proposed for the Czech Republic and Poland, U.S. officials have stressed that the Czech and Polish governments would have to agree to that arrangement.

Russia also would have to allow U.S., Czech and Polish officials access to its missile defense sites, Gates has said.

U.S. President George W. Bush plans to go to Russia in early April to meet with President Vladimir Putin on strategic issues, including the missile shield plan.

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