Russia and US play down missile dispute

Senior US and Russian officials sought to play down their differences on Thursday after two weeks that have seen a sharp cooling in relations between their countries.

On a visit to Moscow, Stephen Hadley, the US national security adviser, said he did not see a speech by President Vladimir Putin of Russia in Munich this month that was sharply critical of US “unilateralism” as a return to cold war-style confrontation.

He also reiterated assurances that Washington’s planned missile defence system, parts of which the US wants to locate in eastern Europe, was not aimed at Russia but at a potential threat from Iran or other rogue states.

Igor Ivanov, Mr Hadley’s counterpart as head of Russia’s national security council, acknowledged there were disagreements between the two countries but said it was important that these should be resolved by dialogue.

Mr Hadley also held talks with Mr Putin during a visit that seemed designed to project a more conciliatory stance after the sharp exchanges that have taken place since the Russian president’s Munich address.

“We do not see President Putin’s speech as an invitation to confrontation and do not believe it was made with that intention,” Mr Hadley said.

Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Mr Putin’s envoy to the European Union, described the Munich speech as a “cold shower” rather than a declaration of cold war. He told Rossiiskaya Gazeta, a government daily, the speech brought into the open the kind of issues usually discussed behind closed doors.

“We are no longer in ideological conflict with the west,” Mr Yastrzhembsky added. “Russia is a totally different country.”

But the dispute over the planned US missile defence system continued to simmer on Thursday. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said Moscow’s complaints arose from concerns on how such defences were being handled between Russia and the west. He said western countries in the Nato-Russia Council, which deals with military ties between Moscow and the alliance, had insisted on ”calling a break” in talks on co-operation on missile defence.

The pause in consultations appeared to have been “tailor-made to coincide with” the US move to position parts of its national missile system in eastern Europe, he complained.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, said it was important to avoid “anti-American or anti-Russian reflexes” when tackling this issue.

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