June 9 (Bloomberg) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates today lamented delays in efforts to reach agreement with Russia to cooperate on a U.S.-led NATO missile defense system that leaders in Moscow have persistently opposed.
Gates commented at end of two days of meetings on a range of issues that included Afghanistan and Libya and featured the first meeting of defense ministers within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-Russia Council in three years. The council is intended to improve relations between the former Cold War adversaries.
“While I had hoped we would be ready to move ahead on this subject in the NATO-Russia Council, it is clear that we will need more time,” Gates told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Still, he cited “strong consensus support at the NATO-Russia Council for practical cooperation on missile defense directed against threats from outside Europe, such as Iran, and not against each other.”
Gates said his talks with his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, reviewed efforts by their staffs to find ways of cooperating on the missile defense system. The U.S. has proposed measures such as exchanging launch information and setting up a joint data center.
The U.S. is seeking to overcome Russian objections to the system, which has prompted leaders in Moscow to threaten to withdraw from a new strategic nuclear arms agreement with the U.S. The U.S. won NATO backing last year for the system, which Russian leaders say may blunt the effectiveness of their military deterrence.
Russian Elections Crucial
“I suspect there will be no big moves on any of this until after the Russian presidential elections next year,” Jan Techau, head of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Brussels, said in an interview. “Missile defense may be used as an issue in the elections.”
On Afghanistan, Gates said he warned his NATO and other counterparts against a precipitous withdrawal of troops as they consider how to reduce force numbers this year.
“These gains could be threatened if we do not proceed with the transition to Afghan security lead in a deliberate, organized, and coordinated manner,” Gates said. “Even as the United States begins to draw down next month, I assured my fellow ministers that there will be no rush to the exits on our part -- and we expect the same from our allies.”
--Editors: Leon Mangasarian, Alan Crawford.
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