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Mullen Meets With Russian Counterpart in Helsinki

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

HELSINKI, Finland, Oct. 21, 2008 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff met with his Russian counterpart here today in the first face-to-face meeting between the two powers since Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August.

The Russians requested the meeting between Navy Adm. Mike Mullen and Gen. Nikolai Makarov, officials said.

Makarov, who was installed as the chief of the General Staff in June, presided over Russia’s incursion into Georgia over the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhasia.

Mullen spoke on the phone with the new Russian military leader when the crisis broke on Aug. 6, a senior U.S. military official, speaking on background, told reporters. The chairman appreciated the fact that there was an open line of communication between Washington and the Kremlin at that critical time, the official said.

The conversations covered the flight of U.S. Air Force C-17 transport jets carrying Georgian troops serving in Iraq back to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, and later, the USS Mount Whitney carrying humanitarian supplies to the port of Poti. Makarov gave assurances that Russia would not interfere, the official said.

The two men disagree on many points, but they could still maintain a dialogue and are looking to work together where the two nations can, the official said.

Today’s meeting is not a replacement for a formal visit, the official said. Mullen hosted the previous Russian defense chief in Washington in December, and had been invited to Russia for a reciprocal visit in July. The change in command stopped that visit.

With no set agenda, the official said, Mullen entered the meeting ready to listen to whatever Makarov wished to discuss.

Officials regard the meeting itself as a positive sign. Strategically, it is important to have a dialogue with Russia, and the United States and Russia must sustain a relationship, the official said. The two nations will disagree on some issues – Georgia would head the list now – but there are other areas, such as Iran, where there should be agreement, the official said.

Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons and is looking to deploy them. Those weapons would have the range to target Europe and Russia, and within seven to 10 years, could hit the United States, the official said.

Intelligence services in the United States and Russia know that Iran is developing these weapons, the official noted, adding that the threat emanating from Iran should be enough to convince the Russians that the missile defense system to be based in the Czech Republic and Poland is for defense against Iran and is not aimed at countering Russian weapons.

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Navy Adm. Mike Mullen

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