March 14, 2008 / 9:50 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. struggles to interest Russia in missile shield

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday Russia had shown some interest in U.S. ideas on cooperating on plans to build a missile shield in Europe but remained fundamentally opposed to the system.

Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates go to Moscow next week for talks with their Russian counterparts on the U.S. plan to put a radar installation in the Czech Republic and missile interceptors in Poland as part of the defensive shield.

Washington argues that the system is designed to protect against attacks from what it calls “rogue” states, including Iran and North Korea. Moscow is less convinced of the threat from those countries and fears that the shield may be directed at Russia - a view Rice earlier dismissed as “ludicrous.”

“In private, we’ve had good discussions with the Russians. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that their opposition has diminished,” Rice told reporters as she flew to Santiago, the second and final stop on a two-day trip to Brazil and Chile.

Rice and Gates went to Moscow in October to propose ways for the two countries to cooperate on the shield. The issue has since been discussed by lower-level officials and by U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“They have shown some interest in the proposals, and so we will go and develop them further,” Rice said.

Rice said that she hoped to see Russian President-elect Dmitry Medvedev during her trip to Moscow.

“I’d be interested in hearing how he thinks about not just the future of U.S.-Russian issues but -- because he’s been very involved in domestic affairs in Russia -- how he sees the evolution of domestic politics and economics,” she said.

The United States has criticized what it says is an erosion of civil liberties, press freedoms and democratic norms under Putin, who has said he plans to serve as prime minister under his chosen successor Medvedev.

Asked if Medvedev would be more committed to such freedoms than Putin, Rice said: “Well, the proof will be in the pudding.”

She noted Medvedev had said he wanted to see greater openness in Russia. “I hope that’s true,” she said.

Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by David Storey

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