Tension between Russia and the United States on missile defense issues did not ease as both sides failed to agree on any key points during their talks in Moscow on Friday.
The talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin, visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and foreign and defense ministers from both countries, focused on missile defense, the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, and ways to further reduce offensive arms after START-1 (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) expires in 2012.
However, the two sides failed to overcome differences on the U.S. plan to deploy 10 ballistic missile interceptors in Poland and a tracking radar in the Czech Republic, as well as Russia's proposals to extend the START-1, although both sides agreed to continue discussions at an expert level and resume the talks in six months.
Analysts said the U.S. missile defense plan in Eastern Europe stood at the center of the conflict between the two powers, and their lack of sincerity to cooperate directly caused the talks to bog down.
Washington says the missile defense plan in eastern Europe is intended to stave off the threat from what it calls "rogue states," but Moscow strongly opposes it, seeing it as a worrisome step that undermines Russian security.
At a press conference after Friday's talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow had urged the U.S. to freeze the plan during consultations between experts,
But Rice said later in an interview with Russian TV channel "Rossiya" that the United States should start deploying elements of its missile defense shield in Central Europe without delay.
Lavrov warned that if the United States deployed missile defense elements in Europe, Russia would be forced to take steps to "neutralize" the threat posed by the U.S. anti-missile system.
Putin asked the United States to abandon the plan, warning it would hurt bilateral relations.
He also threatened to pull his country out of the Russian-U.S. Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) unless it was extended to other countries.
The CFE treaty also puts Russia in a favorable position in negotiations. The pact, signed by 22 states in Paris on Nov. 19, 1990, was an agreement between NATO members and Warsaw Pact countries aimed at establishing a balance in Europe by cutting weapons of conventional armed forces.
On July 13, 2007, Putin signed a decree suspending Russia's participation in the treaty, arousing "great concern" among European countries.
NATO spokesman James Appathurai said, "NATO considers this treaty to be an important foundation of European security and stability."
Russia had threatened several times to withdraw from the treaty when it was at odds with the U.S. over the planned missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.
Under pressure from its European allies, the U.S. showed its concern about Russia's declared intention to withdraw from the CFE Treaty.
After the talks on Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he hoped that the two parties would be able to bridge their differences and that specialists would be able to sort out a solution to the problem.
However, Russia considers the U.S. proposals on salvaging the CFE Treaty inadequate.
According to Lavrov, Russia and the United States will continue their consultations on the missile defense in Europe involving foreign and defense ministers of the two countries, in what is called the "two-plus-two" format, in six months in Washington.
"We have agreed that this format will deal with practical implementation of the initiatives, which our countries jointly promote and implement on the international arena for the sake of strategic stability," Lavrov said.
Some Russian officials said the U.S. willingness to cooperate was due to Russia's hard steps.
"Russia's recent resolute steps, including the resumption of patrol missions of its long-range aircraft and the rearmament of its armed forces with new types of powerful weapons, have played a significant role in this change," Russian State Duma international affairs committee head Konstantin Kosachyov said, as quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency.
He said that in addition to the suspension of Russia's participation in the CFE Treaty, these steps have created "a fundamentally different climate" in the Russian-U.S. relations.
He also believed that "the clearly articulated agreement between the parties to continue negotiations on a regular basis" is the most important result of the meeting.
Analysts have noticed that although Russia and the United States have barely budged their positions, they have maintained their interest in dialogues and agreed to continue consultations on the issue.
However, it is believed that no definitive results can be expected from the talks before the presidential elections in both countries next year.