The heads of state of Russia and the United States in a Monday meeting agreed to maintain bilateral talks on missile defense even though the two sides' views differ substantially, RIA Novosti reported (see GSN, June 18).
Moscow opposes a U.S. plan to field through 2020 increasingly sophisticated missile interceptors around Europe. Russian leaders worry that future-generation interceptors will be able to target its ICBMs, even though the United States insists this will not be the case. Washington is developing the European ballistic missile shield with NATO for the stated purpose of protecting the continent against possible missile strikes from the Middle East.
The two former Cold War antagonists have for some time been engaged in discussions on possible missile defense cooperation but have been unable to reach an accord, largely because the United States refuses to issue a binding guarantee on missile interceptor usage. Russia has warned it will use military means to undermine the NATO missile shield if a compromise is not reached on the matter.
"Despite disagreements in our assessment, we agreed to continue [our] joint search for ways to resolve controversial issues in the area of missile defense," U.S. President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a bilateral statement released following a summit in Los Cabos, Mexico.
The two leaders also agreed to maintain discussions on the nuclear balance of power and to scrupulously honor the stipulations of the bilateral New START accord, which requires Russia and the United States by 2018 to each reduce their deployed strategic nuclear arsenals to 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery vehicles (RIA Novosti I, June 18).
"We discussed a range of strategic issues, including missile defense, and resolved to continue to work through some of the difficult problems there," Obama said after his meeting with Putin, the Qatar News Agency reported.
The U.S. leader touted the two nuclear superpowers' recent collaboration in a number of areas. "We agreed that we need to build on these issues, even as we recognize that there are going to be areas of disagreement," Obama said (Qatar News Agency, June 19).
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday described the Obama-Putin discussion -- the first between the two men as heads of state -- as "very positive," RIA Novosti reported.
"The dialogue was not confrontational. It was constructive and very open," Peskov said. "The notion that current disagreements on certain issues should not be stumbling blocks (in development of bilateral relations) dominated the meeting" (RIA Novosti II, June 19).