Clinton, Russia Spar Over Missile Defense System

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has spent the last two days meeting with her NATO and Russian counterparts in Brussels. They've been talking about NATO plans to deploy a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, to counter "rogue" Iranian weapons. Russia, again, raised objections last month — and even threatened to pull out of the latest U.S.-Russia nuclear weapons treaty.

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And I'm Lynn Neary. It was a diplomatic sparring match today between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russia. She and her NATO counterparts met in Brussels with Russia's foreign minister to discuss the alliance's plans for a missile defense system.

But NPR's Jackie Northam reports that they failed to overcome Moscow's strong objections.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: U.S. and NATO officials tried to put a brave face on missile defense before today's meeting with their Russian counterparts. They said they were hoping for real progress in convincing the Russians the system will not undermine Russia's own strategic deterrent.

Those were high hopes for an issue that's been argued by both sides for years with little forward motion. The allies said that open dialogue is key to reaching a breakthrough, but speaking through an interpreter, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that isn't always how it works.

SERGEI LAVROV: (Through Translator) Generally speaking, when they tell us we want to cooperate with you on missile defense and then we suggest let us sit together and analyze what are the origins of threats? What's the best way to counter those threats? And they tell us, no, no, no. There's no need for any discussion or arrangements. We already finalized a scheme and this is the best possible option and it is not targeted against you.

NORTHAM: Russia's longstanding opposition to the missile shield has grown more strident recently. Moscow threatened to bar NATO from using a transportation network on its territory, which is critical for shuttling supplies into northern Afghanistan.

In late November, President Dmitry Medvedev warned that Moscow would deploy its missiles in strategic parts of Russia and aim them at the NATO missile shield unless some sort of deal can be hammered out.

Secretary Clinton shot back during a press conference.

SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: We've explained through multiple channels that our planned system will not and can not threaten Russia's strategic deterrent. It does not affect our strategic balance with Russia and it is certainly not a cause for military countermeasures.

NORTHAM: Clinton looked frustrated as she reiterated that the proposed missile shield is not to protect Europe from incoming missiles from Russia.

CLINTON: Therefore, this is not directed at Russia, it is not about Russia. It is, frankly, about Iran and other state or non-state actors who are seeking to develop threatening missile technology.

NORTHAM: Even NATO's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, normally very nuanced, appeared thrown off by Russia's response to the missile defense system.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I have to say that such responses remind us of the confrontation of a bygone era and they suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of the scale of our missile defenses and of their purpose.

NORTHAM: But the lack of progress and the degree of mistrust may have been what prompted Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to lash out at Secretary Clinton earlier today. He blamed her for instigating the protests that have roiled Moscow over this past week.

Clinton has criticized Sunday's parliamentary elections calling them rigged. She said Russian voters deserve and investigation into electoral fraud and manipulation.

Jackie Northam, NPR News.

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