Rice aims to ease Kremlin concerns over missile shield

MOSCOW — MOSCOW -- Amid the worst chill in U.S.-Russian relations since the Soviet era, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Moscow yesterday for talks aimed at convincing the Kremlin that a U.S.-planned missile shield in Eastern Europe poses no threat to Russia.

Wariness of Washington's bid for an anti-ballistic missile defense system based in the Czech Republic and Poland has spread throughout Europe, but opposition to the plan is fiercest in Russia, where leaders remain convinced that the shield could one day provide the infrastructure for offensive weapons.


The Bush administration says the shield is needed to defend European and U.S. troops based there against a potential attack from Iran. Tehran does not have long-range ballistic missile capability, but could develop that ability by 2015, U.S. officials say.

Rice's visit today with President Vladimir V. Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will also include talks on Moscow's opposition to a United Nations plan to grant supervised independence to the Serbian province of Kosovo.


Upon her arrival in Moscow last night, Rice met with First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, according to the Russian news agency Interfax. The agency did not say what subjects they discussed.

A one-time expert in Soviet affairs, Rice faces her most difficult round of talks with the Kremlin since becoming secretary of state in 2005. Emboldened by high oil prices that have revived Russia's economy, the Kremlin has criticized what it sees as U.S. unilateral policies bent on global dominance.

Some Russian commentators believe remarks Putin made during a speech May 9 in Red Square likened current U.S. foreign policy to that of the Third Reich. Russian leaders have since emphasized to Washington that Putin was not comparing the United States to Nazi Germany, but the controversy follows Putin's speech in Munich in February in which he accused the United States of recklessly pursuing unilateral aims that threaten world security.

"If I were Condoleezza Rice or President Bush, I'd care that these relations are slipping downward in a very dangerous direction," said Viktor Kremenyuk, an analyst with the Moscow-based Institute for USA and Canadian Studies. "The issue for Rice is to do what is possible to not allow U.S.-Russian dialogue to come to a standstill."

Speaking to reporters on a plane en route to Russia, Rice called her trip to Moscow "a time for intensive diplomacy."

Alex Rodriguez writes for the Chicago Tribune.