US touts Russia ties ahead of talks with defense minister
Defense Secretary Robert Gates hosts his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov on Wednesday for several hours of talks, as US officials touted improving relations between the two countries.
It was the first visit to the Pentagon by a Russian defense minister in five years, and American officials made a point of telling reporters that Gates was devoting most of his day to talks with Serdyukov.
The two planned to sign documents on defense cooperation and hold three formal meetings as well as a working dinner on a navy vessel on the Potomac river, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.
The defense chiefs would be meeting for a total of at least five hours, "which is an unusually long amount of time to devote to any visiting dignitary," he told reporters.
On the eve of the visit, Gates -- a former CIA director who spent much of his career puzzling over Soviet intentions -- described Russia as a partner in an interview with the Russian agency Interfax.
He said Moscow's efforts to upgrade the country's nuclear arsenal, under a new START nuclear treaty, posed no threat to the United States.
"Modernization programs that take place within the framework of new START are completely legitimate. We will have our own modernization," he said.
"I don't see Russia as a threat," Gates added.
"We're partners in some areas and competitors in others. But on important things, we are cooperating," he said.
The US defense secretary planned to express Washington's appreciation for Moscow allowing the United States to supply NATO troops using routes through Russian territory, Morrell said.
The two officials were also expected to discuss the sensitive subject of missile defense as well as efforts to persuade the US Senate to ratify the new START treaty.
A top diplomat who helped negotiate the treaty said Tuesday that US-Russia relations could suffer if senators fail to ratify the accord, with Moscow possibly refusing to back Washington's policy on Iran.
The START deal has bolstered cooperation between the former Cold War foes on national security issues, paving the way for Moscow to support tough UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, said Rose Gottemoeller, assistant secretary of state for verification, compliance and implementation.
Morrell said both men also would be sharing their experiences in trying to reform and streamline their defense bureaucracies.
© 2010 AFP