US, Russian diplomats seek to cool tensions

The top US and Russian diplomats tried to play down concerns about a Cold War revival set off by Russian president Vladimir Putin’s claim that Washington is fostering a global arms race.

However, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov could not put aside disagreements about a proposed US missile defence system in Europe.

Lavrov wrote in yesterday’s Washington Post that Putin’s recent remarks have been widely misinterpreted.

“From the reaction of some Western journalists and politicians, one would think that the Russian president wished to ignite a blast of anti-American rhetoric to spark another Cold War,” Lavrov wrote.

Rice also denied the rhetoric could push the countries back to Cold War-era relations.

“Russia is not the Soviet Union and we have to recognise that,” she said. “We are co-operating with the Russians on a number of fronts, on North Korea, on Iran, in nuclear – trying to prevent nuclear terrorism.”

Putin said at a conference in Germany this month that the US “has overstepped its national borders in every way” and is promoting a global arms race. His speech and subsequent Russian statements raised concerns about a proposed US missile defence system in Europe that would include facilities in two former Soviet satellites, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Lavrov said Putin’s speech reflected objections about the US exerting its power without consulting other countries.

“He called for a world with many centres of influence where different interests work together, multilaterally, to shape a common denominator on global issues,” Lavrov wrote. “What should Russia believe when the US seeks to place anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe?”

Rice said Russia’s objections to the missile defence system were unjustified.

“No one would suggest, anyone who knows anything about this, would suggest that somehow 10 interceptors deployed in Poland are going to threaten the thousands of warheads in the Russian deterrent,” Rice said. “It’s a ludicrous claim.”

US officials have said the interceptors being proposed for Europe could be overwhelmed easily by the size and speed of Russia’s vast arsenal of intercontinental nuclear missiles and that the system is aimed at counteracting a potential threat from Iran.

Other parts of the system outside of Europe would be aimed at defending against a possible attack from North Korea.

However, in an interview published Sunday, Lavrov repeated Russian concerns that the system would in fact be directed elsewhere.

“To retaliate against threats, even imagined ones, radars and anti-missile launch pads wouldn’t seem necessary, because the trajectories of the imagined missiles flying from Iran or North Korea go in an absolutely different direction,” Lavrov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

In his op-ed, Lavrov also addressed Nato’s expansion into what was the Soviet sphere of influence.

“With the Warsaw Pact dissolved for more than 15 years, why does Nato still spread toward Russian borders?” he wrote.

Rice said Nato no longer threatened Russia.

“I think the expansion of Nato and the expansion of the European Union is, in fact, one of the great stories of the post-Cold War time,” she said. “Russia has nothing to fear by having democracies on its borders.”

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