Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is attending a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council's foreign ministers, which is expected to focus on the proposed U.S. missile defense initiative.
In January, the U.S. announced plans to deploy elements of its missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland to counter possible attacks from Iran or North Korea, whose nuclear programs have provoked serious international concerns. Russia, which has been anxious about NATO bases that have appeared in former Communist-bloc countries and ex-Soviet republics, considers the plans to deploy anti-missile systems in Central Europe as a national security threat and a destabilizing factor for Europe.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who met with President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov during his recent visit to Moscow, apparently failed to convince the Russian leadership that the U.S. missile shield does not pose any threat to Russia, and suggested that Moscow could cooperate with Washington on a whole range of issues related to the missile defense system.
Russia's top brass reacted swiftly and categorically to the U.S. proposal by blasting Washington's position at a news conference at RIA Novosti Tuesday.
"The real goal [of the deployment] is to protect [the U.S.] from the Russian and Chinese nuclear missile potential and to create exclusive conditions for the invulnerability of the United States," said Army General Yury Baluyevsky, the chief of the Russian General Staff.
The general warned Washington that Russia would monitor the U.S. missile defense installations in Europe if they were ultimately deployed, and would develop an adequate response to U.S. actions.
At a Tuesday news conference in Luxembourg, Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow had no interest in joining the U.S. initiative and is still awaiting a clear explanation from the United States over its proposed missile shield plans.
Lavrov reiterated that any cooperation must involve the principle of equal partnership from the very beginning and respect for individual interests.
"This [missile defense initiative] assumes cooperation from the start, and, as a first step, must include a joint assessment of existing threats and coordination of measures to be taken," he said, adding that the U.S. proposal lacks such an assessment.
"We are against any proposal that turns Europe into a playground for someone," the Russian minister said. "We do not want to play these games."
Commenting on Russia's reaction, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday she was surprised with Russia's resistance to accept the U.S. offer on missile defense cooperation.
"We have offered them defense cooperation," she said at a news conference in Oslo. "I don't know why you would not want to engage in missile defense cooperation that gives you the possibility of protecting your people and your territory against missile threats from states that may not be deterrable."
She expressed hope that future talks with the Russian leadership on the issue would help allay Moscow's concerns and eliminate suspicions left from the period of the Cold War.
"We will continue to talk to the Russians about it," Rice said. "To the degree that they have concerns, we'll continue to try to address them and we've been doing this now for several months."
U.S. State Secretary said she will meet with the Russian foreign minister in Oslo and will continue discussions during her upcoming visit to Moscow in May.
"I am expecting that I will go to Moscow pretty soon and I -- when I go to Moscow, we'll have more extended time to talk about all of these issues," Rice said, also referring to issues of the Kosovo settlement and Iran's controversial nuclear program.