Thursday, April 3, 2008

Upcoming Bush-Putin Meeting Could be Momentous

George W. Bush and Russian President Valdimir Putin are scheduled to meet this Sunday in the Russian city of Sochi to discuss missile defense and a multi-point strategic framework document to guide U.S.-Russian relations in the near and medium term. Sunday’s meeting comes on the heels of this week’s NATO summit in Bucharest, and will be the last scheduled meeting between Bush and Putin as heads of state.

Reports have been circulating during the past few weeks that recent talks between U.S. and Russian officials, including a visit to Moscow by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates last month, have closed the gap between the two countries on missile defense. Washington has reportedly proposed to halt activation of the system until an agreement can be reached with Russia as to what constitutes an “imminent” Iranian threat and has offered to allow Russia access to missile defense sites in the United States and Europe. Nevertheless, the United States and Russia are still far away from an agreement, and it remains to be seen if Sunday’s meeting will include a discussion of these compromise proposals and/or further movement on Russia's suggestions for alternatives to a missile defense system in Europe.

The Bush administration’s proposed plan, which would consist of 10 interceptors in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic, has provoked virulent opposition from Russia. In response, Moscow has already suspended compliance with the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. It is also threatening to abrogate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which could pave the way for the reintroduction of large numbers of ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with intermediate ranges in Europe. Moreover, Russia has suggested that it may target Poland and the Czech Republic and deploy medium-range ballistic missiles in Kalingard on the Polish border.

In sum, Sunday’s meeting is an event that merits paying close attention to.

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