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Putin Warns U.S. On Missile Plan

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates as U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice looks on, at the presidential residence of Novo-Ogaryovo near Moscow, Oct. 12, 2007. In talks on a range of thorny issues, President Vladimir Putin warned U.S. officials to back off a plan to install missile defenses in eastern Europe or risk harming relations with Moscow. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)
AP Photo/Pool
In a tense start to talks on a range of thorny issues, President Vladimir Putin on Friday warned U.S. officials to back off a plan to install missile defenses in eastern Europe or risk harming relations with Moscow.

Addressing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Russian president appeared to mock the U.S. missile defense plan, which is at the center of a tangle of arms control and diplomatic disputes between the former Cold War adversaries.

"Of course we can sometime in the future decide that some anti-missile defense system should be established somewhere on the moon," Putin said, according to an English translation. "But before we reach such arrangements, we will lose the opportunity for fixing some particular arrangements between us."

After Putin's session with Gates and Rice, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that the U.S. delegation had presented "detailed proposals" to address U.S.-Russian differences on missile defense and arms control. He offered no details but said the Russian government is ready to seek compromise.

"We have differences and there is no need to hide them," Lavrov said.

The Russian government sees the U.S. missile defense plan, which Washington describes as a hedge against the threat of missile attack from Iran, as a worrisome step toward weakening Russian security. It has been a longstanding dispute, and Putin's remarks seemed to raise the level of tensions.

Rice and Gates appeared taken aback at the firm tone and forcefulness of Putin's remarks, which were made from notes in the presence of American and Russian news media before they began a closed-door meeting around an oval table in an ornate conference room at his country house outside the capital.

"We will try to find ways to cooperate," Rice said in response. "Even though we have our differences, we have a great deal in common because that which unites us in trying to deal with the threats of terrorism, of proliferation, are much greater than the issues that divide us."

After Putin addressed further comments about U.S.-Russian military cooperation to Gates, the American defense secretary responded by saying the Pentagon was ready to intensify a dialogue on military relations.

"We have an ambitious agenda of security issues that concern both of us, including, as you suggest, development of missile systems by others in the neighborhood - I would say in particular, Iran," Gates said.

Gates did not directly comment on the missile defense dispute.