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USA takes maximum effort to ease Russia's missile defense system concerns

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, the Bush administration has gone almost as far as it will in accommodating Russian concerns about a U.S. plan to extend a missile defense system into Europe.

"I think we've gone pretty far," he said in an interview Thursday with reporters on a return flight to Washington. On his European trip, he held a series of defense meetings in which missile defense and Russia's vocal opposition were chief issues.

"I think we've leaned about as far forward as we can," he said. "We've offered a lot. And my view is, now I want to see some movement on their part."

U.S. offers include an arrangement that would permit Russian officials to be present at major U.S. missile defense sites to monitor their activities. That possibly could mean a Russian presence at proposed U.S. sites in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Moscow strongly objects to the European sites, arguing that they are designed for an Iranian missile threat that does not exist.

The Russians have not accepted the proposal. Nor has the offer been presented in detail. Gates has said Washington would ask for approval from Poland and Czech Republic before formally proposing to allow Russians on their soil.

Gates questioned Moscow's motive for opposing the European sites.

"I think the question is whether the Russians are serious about partnering with us or whether this is merely a pose to try and stop us from going forward with the Czech Republic and Poland," he said.

Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held missile defense talks with their counterparts and with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this month. The U.S. officials presented the idea of Russian monitors, as well as an offer to possibly delay activating the missile defense sites until an Iranian threat is clearer.

In the interview on his plane, Gates said he believes the Russians agree with Washington that Iran intends to continue advancing its ballistic missile program.

"It was clear when I was in Russia that the Russians consider Iran a security threat," Gates said. "It's just a disagreement about when their missiles might be available - to have a certain range."

He made that remark when asked about the administration's announcement of new penalties against Iran.

"I think our focus really is on tightening the pressure and increasing the isolation of this government in Tehran so that the broader range of leaders there understand it's not in their interest or the interest of the Iranian people to continue to pursue the course they are on," the Pentagon chief said.

Gates also said the administration is not focusing on possible military action against Iran.

Discussing U.S. military planning on Iran, Gates said, "I would characterize it as routine."

He said the focus "that we all have is on using diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions to persuade the Iranian government that they are isolated, they need to alter their policies and ambitions."

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