WASHINGTON (AFP) – Russia has hardened its stance toward US plans for a missile shield in an apparent bid to "test the mettle" of incoming President Barack Obama, US arms negotiator John Rood said Wednesday.
"My assessment is the Russians intend to test the mettle of the new administration and the new president," said Rood, acting under secretary of state for arms control and international security.
"And the future will show how the new administration chooses to answer that challenge," Rood told reporters after returning from talks Monday in Moscow on missile defense and other arms control issues.
Obama has made no commitment to pursue the administration of President George W. Bush's plans to build a missile shield in eastern Europe as it questions whether the technology is "workable."
The plans by the Bush administration envisage establishing rocket interceptors in Poland and a linked radar in the Czech Republic.
The United States insists the facilities are needed to protect against "rogue states" like Iran, but Moscow has portrayed them as a threat to its security.
Rood told reporters in November that Washington had sent new proposals to Russia that built on previous ones that would allow Russian liaison officers access to the missile shield sites.
Rood said the Russians showed "some interest" during talks Monday between teams headed by Rood and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
However, he said the Russians "have paused I think with the election of a new administration in the United States and they are looking carefully at the position of the new time."
They still want to talk, but "in some ways their position is less flexible than it was before and, I think that therefore leads to me the conclusion that they would like to determine the posture of the new administration.
He referred to the "transparency and confidence-building regime" that includes allowing Russian officers to visit the missile sites.
He said the Russians also wanted to test the reaction of the Obama administration on subjects other than missile defense but did not identify them.
During his talks in Moscow, Rood said there no breakthrough in talks for a follow-on agreement to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires at the end of 2009.
Rood said a new US proposal on START focuses on limiting nuclear warheads, but Russia wants to open up the negotiations to limits on conventional forces and missile defense.
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