Bloomberg: U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called talks yesterday with his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, “very productive,” as the two sought common ground on divisive issues including missile defense, Iran and Georgia.
By Viola Gienger
Sept. 16 (Bloomberg) — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called talks yesterday with his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, “very productive,” as the two sought common ground on divisive issues including missile defense, Iran and Georgia.
The series of meetings marked the first official visit to the Pentagon for any Russian defense minister since January 2005. Gates, who most often spends an hour or two with a visiting counterpart from another country, was to host a dinner for Serdyukov on a U.S. Navy barge in the Potomac River.
“We began what I believe will develop into more frequent communications between the two of us and our staffs,” said Gates, who served as a Central Intelligence Agency officer during the Cold War and later directed the spy agency. The two last met in Moscow in 2008.
The leaders didn’t achieve a breakthrough on Russian objections to U.S. plans for expanding missile defenses against threats such as Iran, or on assessments of the danger posed by the Persian Gulf nation, according to a U.S. defense official.
Serdyukov expressed interest in continuing talks among lower-level experts on longstanding U.S. proposals for cooperation on missile defense, the official told reporters at the Pentagon on condition of anonymity. The U.S. has tried for years to persuade officials in Moscow that the missile defenses wouldn’t and couldn’t target Russia.
Gates aims to advance President Barack Obama’s agenda of improving relations with Russia on a range of issues. The Obama administration has worked to re-establish ties strained over the missile-defense system, Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia and American support for admitting former Soviet republics to NATO.
The two defense chiefs signed agreements on future talks, including a revision of a 1993 memorandum outlining their defense ties.
“We believe this will lead to more joint programs, exchanges, exercises and activities between our two defense establishments in a number of areas,” Gates told reporters. A separate agreement established a defense relations working group headed by Gates and Serdyukov, who agreed to meet at least once a year.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin last month said the U.S. failed to live up to its “reset” of relations between the two countries by rearming Georgia and planning an air-defense system for Europe, according to an interview published in the Kommersant newspaper.
Serdyukov, who became defense minister in 2007, described the talks with Gates as “profound and detailed.”
“I believe the dialogue that we had today will be fruitful for both of us,” he said at yesterday’s signing. In addition to touching on regional and global security, the two discussed “in detail the issues pertaining to national missile defense and the challenges facing us,” Serdyukov said.
The visit was Serdyukov’s first to the U.S., according to the U.S. defense official. The talks intended to expand on high- level links among military leaders that were renewed last year between Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen and his Russian counterpart, General Nikolai Makarov.
Gates and Serdyukov agreed to try again to renew negotiations toward compliance with the Treaty for Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, the U.S. defense official said. Russia in 2007 suspended its participation in the agreement, which limits the size of each side’s armed forces on the continent.
On the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed in April, Serdyukov indicated his parliament is awaiting ratification by the U.S. Senate before proceeding with its own approval, the U.S. official said.
Gates sought to reassure Serdyukov that the Manas air base the U.S. is using in neighboring Kyrgyzstan is intended solely to resupply forces fighting in Afghanistan, the official said.
While the visit was aimed mainly at improving the tone of relations to set an example to their staffs, the U.S. defense chief also urged that Russia comply with 2008 cease-fire agreements that ended the conflict with Georgia and be upfront about the forces it has on the ground, the official said.
The discussions also included comparing notes on military budget cuts that each is undertaking.
Gates said it was “a pleasure” to meet with Serdyukov, “in part because he and I face similar leadership challenges.” The leaders “are both working hard to achieve sweeping, sometimes painful, but very necessary reforms in our respective militaries,” Gates said.
Gates spent so much time with Serdyukov in hopes a better relationship between them would seep into the lower ranks, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said.
“That’s why you dedicate the amount of time that he has,” Morrell told reporters. “It sends a very strong signal through their respective organizations that they expect greater cooperation down the chain.”