MOSCOW/WASHINGTON Russian and U.S. defence chiefs signalled on Monday their intention to reconvene long-stalled missile defence talks, the Pentagon said, following a change in U.S. missile defence plans for Europe that has been met cautiously by Moscow.
There have been no meetings at the deputy minister-level since 2011, when six were held, a U.S. defence official told Reuters. Talks set for 2012 were cancelled because of scheduling conflicts, he said.
The Pentagon said Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu expressed a desire to reconvene the talks, and that U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel assured him they would continue and would be carried forward by the Pentagon's policy chief, Jim Miller.
"We are very interested in further developments on the European missile defence and our minister offered to restart regular consultations on that between deputy ministers," Anatoly Antonov, a deputy of Shoigu, was quoted as saying by Russian news agency RIA.
The news came after a March 16 announcement that the United States would station 14 new anti-missile interceptors in Alaska in response to North Korean provocations, but at the same time forgo a new type of interceptor that would have been deployed in Europe.
Cold War-era foes Moscow and Washington have long been at loggerheads over the shield in Europe. President Barack Obama's move in 2009 to scale down earlier, Bush-administration plans only offered a short-lived respite. Russia's main concern is that the European shield would weaken its nuclear deterrent.
Russia's point man for U.S. relations, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, said on March 21 that the Obama administration's planned changes brought a new element to the issue.
He called for further dialogue, noting Moscow still had concern that U.S. missile defences could threaten its security.
U.S. Admiral James Stavridis, NATO supreme allied commander Europe, noted Russia's concerns in an article published on NATO's website on Monday but said: "We strongly disagree."
"And (we) feel that the system is clearly designed to protect populations against Iran, Syria and other ballistic-missile capable nations that threaten the European continent," Stavridis wrote.
(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Xavier Briand)