Rice, Gates Court Russians on Missile Defense The .S. secretary of state and defense secretary met with Russian ministers Friday to assure them that Russia's security is not threatened by the U.S. plan to expand its missile defense system to Europe by installing missiles in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic.
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Rice, Gates Court Russians on Missile Defense

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Rice, Gates Court Russians on Missile Defense

Rice, Gates Court Russians on Missile Defense

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, Russia called on the U.S. to freeze its plans for a missile defense system in Europe and complained that American attempts to resolve the issue were insufficient. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were in Moscow to try to resolve that dispute, as well as other issues.

But as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, they didn't seem to get very far.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The day did not start well for Rice and Gates. After making a trip to President Vladimir Putin's datcha outside the city, the Kremlin leader kept them waiting. And then, in front of television cameras, ridiculed U.S. plans for missile defense.

VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Russian spoken)

KELEMEN: Of course, we can, sometime in the future, decide that some anti- missile defense system should be established somewhere on the moon, Putin said. But in the meantime, he argued, we will lose the opportunity to solve the current issues between us.

The list of those issues is long. And when Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emerged from talks, the only thing he said they have agreed on is to meet again in about six months. Defense Secretary Robert Gates tried again to reassure the Russians that the plans to put missiles in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic for a U.S. missile defense program is not a threat to Russia. And he said the U.S. is open to the idea of having Russian personnel at the sites.

ROBERT GATES: We also address the possible concern on the Russian side that while the sites in the present design form pose no threat to Russia or its deterrent, the concern that in some future date, years from now, they might do so in our willingness to work with the Russians to provide assurances and reassurances in that respect.

KELEMEN: Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov seemed unimpressed.

SERGEY LAVROV: (Through translator) As Mr. Gates himself recognized, there is a potential threat for us here. And we, as our president numerously said, as well as other governmental representatives, will have to take some measures to neutralize this threat. We would prefer to avoid such a scenario.

KELEMEN: Lavrov seemed unconvinced by the U.S. argument that a missile defense system would be aimed at countries like Iran. He suggested the U.S. is overstating the Iranian threat. As for Iran's nuclear program, he said the international community has taken steps to persuade Iran to answer outstanding questions. He said unilateral actions, such as sanction, could undermine this effort.

Secretary Rice fired back.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE: The United States does not intend to allow Iran to use the international financial system to pursue ill-gotten gains from proliferation and for terrorism. Therefore, under American law, when we find that Iranian entities or individuals are engaging in such activities, we will sanction them.

KELEMEN: The Russians and Americans seem to make no progress on other areas of contention, such as what follows start the Nuclear Arms Reduction Treaty or Russia's threat to pull out of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. This might all sound like a return to the Cold War, but Secretary Rice insists it's not. She says the two sides don't see eye-to-eye on everything, but this is not like in Soviet times. Then, she said, we only saw eye-to-eye on the fact that we didn't want to annihilate each other.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Moscow.

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