Financial Times of London & The New York Times – 2009-01-29 09:30:28
LONDON (January 28, 2009) — Russia has dropped plans to station cruise missiles on the territory of its European enclave in Kaliningrad, a military official said on Wednesday, citing signals from the US that it might not deploy an anti-ballistic missile system in eastern Europe.
A senior adviser to Dmitry Medvedev, Russian president, said the offer was a serious overture to President Barack Obama in the hope of ending the chill in relations under the administration of George W. Bush.
“This is a first gesture of mutual understanding that we should get better,” said Igor Yurgens, who heads a think-tank advising the president. “In announcing they would close Guantánamo and get out of Iraq in 16 months, they made gestures. This is our gesture. We will wait now until Obama articulates his position on the missile shield.”
The US state department said if reports of Russia’s decision to drop its deployment plans were true, “it’s certainly a positive step.”
The development came just two days after Mr Obama and Mr Medvedev spoke by telephone ahead of a meeting in London in April, and amid hopes in Washington of improved relations.
“The presidents agreed that, as they were both new leaders from a post-cold war generation, they have a unique opportunity to establish a fundamentally different kind of relationship between our two countries,” the White House said after the call.
Mr Obama’s administration is reviewing Bush-era plans to station a missile base in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic. The US says the bases in the ex-Soviet-bloc states provide protection against the threat of Iranian missiles, but Russia has repeatedly denounced the plans.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, said this week in a television interview: “In Obama’s inner circle, they are saying there is no need to rush and it needs to be further analysed. We welcome such statements.”
Mr Medvedev had thrown down the gauntlet on the day Mr Obama was elected by announcing Russia would deploy cruise missiles in Kaliningrad, between Poland and Lithuania, “to neutralise, if necessary, the anti-missile system”.
On Wednesday, in an indication that the Obama administration is more sceptical of the programme than its predecessor, the state department said: “We’ll support missile defence if it’s proven to work.”
It added, “the president stated very clearly that we’ll be looking at the whole missile defence issue”, noting it was “hard to say” how long the review would take.
Robert Gates, US defence secretary, said this week the Obama administration had not yet discussed the issue.
Reporting by Charles Clover and Catherine Belton in Moscow, James Blitz in London, and Demetri Sevastopulo and Daniel Dombey in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009
Russian Report Says Moscow Will Halt Missile Deployment
Clifford J. Levyy / The New York Times
MOSCOW (January 29, 2009) — A Russian news report on Wednesday that Russia is putting off its plan to deploy missiles near the Polish border raised speculation that the Kremlin is seeking ways to lower tensions with the United States now that a new administration has taken office.
The report, from the Interfax news agency, was attributed to an unidentified Russian defense official, and when contacted later in the day, other Russian defense and Foreign Ministry officials in Moscow would not confirm it or comment on it.
Interfax quoted the unidentified defense official as saying that “these plans have been suspended,” referring to the Kremlin’s proposal to base Iskander missiles in the western region of Kaliningrad and direct them toward Europe.
The official was quoted as saying Russia had taken the step because Washington was not “pushing ahead” with the Bush administration’s proposal to deploy an antimissile system in Poland and the Czech Republic to defend against what the Bush administration had said was a threat from countries like Iran.
Asked about the Interfax report, NATO said through a spokesman that if confirmed, “it would be a positive step.”
In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Robert A. Wood, would not confirm that there had been any contact by the Russian government on a suspension of the missile deployment. But he said of the Russian news report: “It’s a positive development. We look forward to cooperating, as we’ve said for quite some time — cooperating with Russia on missile defense.”
The Kremlin has sharply criticized the Bush antimissile system, contending that it was aimed at Russia. Bush administration officials had sought to soothe Russian concerns, but the issue had damaged relations between the countries.
While the official quoted by Interfax said the United States was not going forward with the antimissile plan, the Obama administration is, in fact, only reviewing the plan and has not publicly rejected it.
It would seem unlikely that the Kremlin would offer the concession of shelving the missile plan without first obtaining a promise from the Obama administration that the American plan had been canceled.
While the Kremlin remained silent about the issue on Wednesday, Itar-Tass, the government-run news agency, quoted an unnamed senior defense official as saying that any such reports in the Russian media about the Kremlin pulling back were “pure fiction, total nonsense.”
The unnamed official suggested that it would be a mistake for the Russians to withdraw their threat unilaterally while the issue was still playing out.
In an interview with Bloomberg News on Monday, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin indicated that he was hopeful that the Obama administration would reject the Bush plan.
“We have heard signals concerning antimissile defense, and we know that people close to Mr. Obama say they should not hurry and the issue demands further analyses,” Mr. Putin said. “We are glad to hear such statements. Beyond that, our proposal on developing those systems is still on the agenda.”
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