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U.S., Russian Officials Agree to Create Strategic Framework Document

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

MOSCOW, March 18, 2008 – After two days of intense talks here, U.S. and Russian officials have agreed to a draft of a “strategic framework” document that will hopefully guide the two sides through dealing with tough issues such as a European missile defense plan.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented the draft to Russian President Vladimir Putin and their Russian counterparts at the start of their talks yesterday and have since been hammering out its details.

The document contains about a dozen initiatives, many which are already in the works between the two countries, but it also contains missile defense and strategic arms reduction treaty initiatives -- two most contentious points between the two countries.

“We had the opportunity to elaborate on a number of confidence building measures and measures for transparency to provide assurance to the Russian Republic that our missile sites and radars would not constitute a threat to Russia,” Gates said in mid-day press conference with Rice and Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov and Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov.

“I think both President Putin [yesterday] and our Russian colleagues today found these ideas useful and important … and they will be studying them further,” Gates said.

The bulk of the effort the past two days was working through the missile defense and strategic arms reduction treaty topics, said a senior U.S. official later, speaking on background.

Gates was on hand to clarify some points in the initiatives that were thought to be mistaken or misunderstood by the Russian leaders. Officials worked through the document paragraph by paragraph and an edited document derived from the talks will be delivered to the Russians before the secretaries leave tomorrow. Their leaders have promised to have their experts “analyze” it, the official said.

“I think based on the discussions we’ve had in the last 24 hours, we feel like we’ve moved the ball forward here in Moscow,” the official said.

This is not the first time U.S. officials have put their ideas in writing for the Russians. In the first of these talks officials agreed to submit their proposals in writing. Lower-level U.S. and Russian officials have met about a half-dozen times in the past year. But this document is collective, collaborative and aimed at reconstructing a relationship that was sliding downward on tough issues, obscuring in part the issues that the two countries were making progress, the official said.

The official said the United States wanted “to capture those areas where we have made progress and try to frame up those where we have differences in a larger context which includes all the progress.”

Also, with each iteration of the document, levels of detail are added to the complex agreements, the official said.

Russian officials agreed that the United States was working to assuage their fears that the proposed missile defense sites planed for Poland and the Czech Republic will not become a threat to their country. They also agreed that it is important to maintain continuity while both administrations transitioning its top leadership in the next several months.

But, Russia’s Defense Minister finished the talks by reiterating their current stand on the U.S. proposal.

“In principle our positions have not changed,” Serdyukov said. “We can say that we have a lot of work to do but we need to see these proposals to look at them, to understand them, and then, following the work at the expert level, we’ll make a decision on how to move forward.”

The Russian foreign minister also said that the best way to allay their concerns would be to not build the missile defense sites. But he also said that the proposal would be sent to Putin once they are reviewed.

“While not agreeing with us on substantial issues, they [the U.S.] recognize that we have these concerns and they put forward proposals aimed at allaying or making these concerns [minor],” Lavrov said.

Because of the Russians’ concerns about the missile defense plan and a strategic arms treaty, getting them to allow those items into the strategic framework document is in itself progress, a senior U.S. official said.

“No one on either side expected dramatic breakthroughs. But we were pleased by the progress we made. A lot of work remains but it was a productive day-and-a-half of talks,” the senior official said. “This is realistically what we hoped for.”

Secretary Rice said at the news conference that the two countries had good discussions even on the tough issues.

“We have agreed on the elements that will be included in the document and have made considerable progress on a number of them,” Rice said.

“We have work to do but I think it is fair to say that U.S.-Russian relations … [are] proceeding in a way that we are able to go forward in various areas of cooperation and when we have differences we can talk about them in an atmosphere of mutual respect,” Rice said.

Gates, in coming to the talks, was very vocal about expecting the Russians to be responsive to the United States’ efforts to allay their fears about the missile defense system.

“I would say that they listened very carefully. President Putin took extensive notes and obviously there was a lot done during the day today,” Gates said. “… I would expect and hope that we would hear back from them reasonably quickly.”

A senior U.S. official later said that he expected to be back negotiating with the Russians in less than six months.

“There’s grounds for much more rapid follow up work,” he said. “We’ve really set the stage with these talks here.”

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