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U.S.-Russia talks end amicably

MOSCOW — MOSCOW -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates wrapped up talks with Russian leaders yesterday without any Kremlin commitment to drop opposition to U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

But unlike their last visit here, there were no lectures from the Russian side and no threats, a sign that relations between Washington and Moscow are warming after a long, deep chill.

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A tone of measured amicability pervaded over their two-day visit to Moscow that included talks with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, President-elect Dmitry Medvedev, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.

The centerpiece of the meetings was missile defense, as it was during the two Americans' last visit here in October, when they met with Putin and later with Lavrov and Serdyukov.

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That meeting was overshadowed by a tense encounter with Putin, in which the Russian leader lectured and berated Rice and Gates for moving ahead with plans for missile defense on Russia's doorstep without taking into account Moscow's view.

Putin's tone last fall contrasted sharply with his demeanor Monday, when he warmly received Rice and Gates and called a letter from President Bush laying out a framework for future U.S.-Russian relations a "serious document." Reaching an accord on elements of the framework would allow both sides to say "that our dialogue is developing in a very productive manner," Putin told Rice and Gates.

At a news conference after daylong talks yesterday with the Americans, Lavrov appeared equally cordial: "What happened in October happened in October. It's March and it's an optimistic month."

The change of Russian demeanor was evident in the Kremlin's posture toward U.S. plans to deploy a ballistic-missile defense system based in the Czech Republic and Poland that would shield Europe and American troops based there from a potential attack from Iran.

Alex Rodriguez writes for the Chicago Tribune.


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