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Putin, Bush to discuss missile defense, CFE in Bucharest, Sochi

The Russian and US leaders will discuss European missile shield plans and the CFE arms reduction treaty when they meet in Romania and Sochi next month, the Russian foreign minister said on Thursday.

George W. Bush said on Wednesday he had accepted Vladimir Putin’s invitation to visit his holiday residence in Sochi on the Black Sea on April 6 after the April 2-4 NATO summit in Romania “to discuss the strategic agreement, a crucial part of which is missile defense.” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “The presidents of Russia and the United States will address all the key issues concerning European security at the Russia-NATO Council meeting during a NATO summit and their informal meeting later on. Our countries, Russia and the United States, bear a special responsibility for security in the Euroatlantic region. This relates to missile defense, the CFE, short- and medium-range missiles, and an arms race in space,” Lavrov said.

When the leaders meet, Putin will be in the final month of his presidency. He is set to be replaced by his long-time ally Dmitry Medvedev on May 7. Washington’s plans to deploy a missile base in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic, which it says are designed to counter potential threats from Iran, have sparked an ongoing dispute with Moscow, which sees the plans as a direct threat to its security. The missile plans coupled with NATO’s ongoing expansion have triggered confrontational rhetoric from Russia and prompted the country to temporarily withdraw from the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe treaty, a crucial arms control arrangement, in mid-December 2007.

However, the Kremlin appeared to soften its stance after a recent visit by the top US diplomat and defense chief, who brought proposals to ease Russian concerns. Lavrov said giving up the idea of opening new missile bases in Central Europe was the best way of addressing Moscow’s security concerns. “Our position remains unaltered. The best way of addressing concerns related to the third missile site [in Europe] is to drop the plans, and switch to joint projects,” he said. The minister said a Russian delegation is currently in Washington continuing to discuss the problem. He also said Moscow was studying the US confidence-building proposals, which he described as measures to improve transparency. (rian.ru)