WASHINGTON -- The United States and Russia agreed on Monday to hold senior-level talks on missile defense following Washington's decision to not develop a controversial ICBM interceptor planned for fielding in Europe.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu requested the deputy minister-level talks in a telephone call made to his U.S. counterpart, Chuck Hagel, according to a Pentagon press release.
"Minister Shoygu expressed his desire to reconvene missile defense discussions," the readout states. "Secretary Hagel agreed and reiterated that this is an important part of U.S.-Russia relations."
Defense Undersecretary for Policy James Miller will head up the U.S. side of the discussions. It was not immediately clear when the talks will take place.
The last round of deputy defense minister discussions on the matter took place in 2011, an unidentified Pentagon official informed Reuters on Monday.
Following the U.S. determination to cancel the Standard Missile 3 Block 2B interceptor, which was to have been fielded around 2022 not far from Russian territory, there is a new possibility the two former Cold War rivals can finally reach a rapprochement on missile defense. Moscow for years has protested an Obama administration plan to field increasingly capable SM-3 interceptors in and around Europe for the stated purpose of defending against a possible ballistic missile strike from the Middle East.
The Kremlin was particularly worried the Block 2B missile might secretly target its strategic nuclear forces; Washington insisted this would not be the case. Had it been developed, the interceptor would only have had the speed to counter first-generation ICBMs and not the faster strategic missiles possessed by Russia, according to the Obama administration.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has connected achieving a resolution on the dispute to any possibility of holding new bilateral nuclear arms control talks with Washington.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov last week said cancelation of the Block 2B project did not eliminate all "causes for concern," though he did call for new two-way discussions. "It is in our interest and we welcome the fact that the American side also, it appears, wants to continue this dialogue."
NATO supreme allied commander for Europe Adm. James Stavridis in a Monday web posting repeated the Western military bloc's insistence that U.S. missile defenses on the continent will not threaten Russian nuclear weapons. "Russia sees the NATO missile defense system as posing a threat to their strategic intercontinental ballistic missile force. We strongly disagree, and feel that the system is clearly designed to protect populations against Iran, Syria and other ballistic-missile-capable nations that threaten the European continent."
In mid-April, U.S. national security adviser Thomas Donilon is slated to travel to Moscow for talks on "the new configuration of the U.S. missile defense system," Putin staffer Yuri Ushakov said on Monday in an ITAR-Tass report. The aide did not reject the possibility of a Donilon-Putin meeting taking place.