Russian 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."
Rice and Gates appeared taken aback at the firm tone and forcefulness of Putin's remarks, which were made in the presence of American and Russian news media before they began a closed-door meeting at his dacha, or residence, 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 keeping Rice and Gates waiting for 40 minutes, Putin began the session with a lengthy monologue in which he also said that Russia may feel compelled to abandon its obligations under a 1987 missile treaty with the United States if it is not expanded to constrain other missile-armed countries.
Referring to the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces treaty that was negotiated with the United States before the breakup of the Soviet Union, Putin said it must be applied to other countries, including those "located in our near vicinity."
Putin said the treaty must be made "universal in nature."
The pact eliminated the deployment of Soviet and American ballistic missiles of intermediate range and was a landmark step in arms control just two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and later the breakup of the Soviet Union.
"We need to convince other (countries) to assume the same level of obligation as assumed by the Russian Federation and the United States," Putin said. "If we are unable to obtain such a goal ... it will be difficult for us to keep within the framework of the treaty in a situation where other countries do develop such weapon systems, and among those are countries located in our near vicinity."
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