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Pentagon chief talks tough on Russia

Times Staff Writer

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Sunday expressed frustration with Russian leaders about the pace of talks over a new U.S. missile defense site in Eastern Europe.

Gates, who will be joined in Moscow by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for two days of talks with Russian leaders starting today, said the Bush administration in October had offered a “very forward-leaning” proposal that would allow Russia to participate directly in the controversial new system.

“At some point, the Russians are going to have to decide whether they want to be true partners, which we’re offering, or whether this is just all a sham game on their part to stall the whole deal,” Gates told reporters aboard his plane en route to Moscow.

Gates’ remarks were among the most pointed by a senior administration official about the stalled bilateral talks and reflected a growing frustration that the Kremlin may be looking to wait out the current administration in Washington, betting that Poland and the Czech Republic will not agree to allow the United States to begin construction on the sites without Russian acquiescence.

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The missile defense system has become among the thorniest issues between Moscow and Washington, with senior Russian officials accusing the Bush administration of building the system to counter Russian ballistic missiles.

The Bush administration has vehemently denied the accusations, insisting the system is aimed at shooting down Iranian long-range missiles that could reach NATO allies in Western Europe and the U.S. mainland sometime in the next decade.

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peter.spiegel@latimes.com


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