Rice, Gates Appeal to Moscow for Missile Defense
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are in Russia today, and they are hoping to reduce tensions between Washington and Moscow. A few observers are holding out much hope for a thaw.
NPR's Gregory Feifer reports from Moscow.
GREGORY FEIFER: Russian President Vladimir Putin didn't wait to ratchet up the pressure. Meeting Rice and Gates at his residence outside Moscow, he mockingly warned the United States not to rush in debasing parts of its planned missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
President VLADIMIR PUTIN (Russia): (Russian spoken)
FEIFER: Of course, we can decide in the future that an anti-missile defense system should be established even on the moon, he said. But before we reach such an arrangement, we will lose the opportunity to fix some of the arrangements between us.
The American officials appear to be taken aback by Putin's tough tone, but they shouldn't have been too surprised. Many in oil-rich Russia are nostalgic for the glory days of the Soviet Union. And some believe, Moscow is pushing a new Cold War-style confrontation as a way to assert itself on the world stage.
Celeste Wallander is a Russia expert at Georgetown University in Washington.
Professor Celeste Wallander (Russian and East European Studies, Georgetown University, Washington): Putin has been very good at casting the United States as being kind of a, you know, a rogue state in its behavior and threatening to all the countries of Europe, not just Russia, but other countries of Europe.
The Russians say Washington's current plans to base part of its missile shield in Eastern Europe are a threat to their national security. Putin has offered the use of a Russian radar based on Azerbaijan as an alternative. And Moscow says that it expects an official response from the Americans during the current U.S.-Russia talks, even though U.S. military officials have already said the base is unsuitable.
Another top matter for discussion will be Western countries drive to enact sanctions over Iran's nuclear program, but after meeting French President Nicolas Sarkozy this week, Putin said there's no evidence that Tehran is secretly developing atomic weapons.
President PUTIN: (Russian spoken)
FEIFER: That's why we have to perceive from the position, he said, that Iran has no such plans.
But Russia expert Wallander says the new French president's high-profile foreign policy, including his promise to stand up to Russia, will help frustrate Moscow's attempt to maintain an anti-U.S. front with major European countries.
Prof. WALLANDER: You could see where advantages to Putin in terms of being able to complain that this is all a U.S. drive to, you know, dominate the world in a unilateral way.
FEIFER: Analysts say among the most important issues under discussion in Moscow are several arms-control agreements including the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Today, Putin said Russia would withdraw from the pact if isn't expanded to include other countries. He appeared to be referring to new NATO members in Eastern Europe. Also, under discussion is the START I nuclear weapons pact, the last strategic arms treaty in place between Moscow and Washington. It's set to expire in 2009.
So far, Moscow has rebuffed American appeals to tone down its Cold War-style rhetoric. Foreign policy Alexander Konovalov is concerned about public opinion. He says that Russian people once again see the United States as the country's main enemy.
Dr. ALEXANDER KONOVALOV (President, Institute for Strategic Assessment, Moscow): What would it mean even more of it - now, it is not to impose from the top is a political ideology, but it is growing from the grassroots' level.
FEIFER: Rice plans to meet with Human Rights groups to discuss Putin's crackdown against opposition groups. But the Kremlin's rollback of democracy is unlikely to be much of an issue during her meetings with officials, even though Putin indicated last week that he may hold on to power after his term limit expires next year.
Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.
AMOS: This morning's news about Al Gore may overshadow the people with whom he's sharing an honor today. Thousands of scientists realized a dream by winning a Nobel Prize. And it's not a prize for science; it's a Nobel Peace Prize. The scientists are members of a global scientific group, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They've been working to nail down the facts about global warming, even if they're fellow Nobel winner, Al Gore, has called attention to it.
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