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Russia welcomes US signals on missile shield
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov welcomed US signals that it would review plans for a missile shield in eastern Europe, but said the issue was not linked to Iran's nuclear programme.
The United States on Friday signalled a willingness to slow plans for a missile defence shield in Europe if Russia agreed to help stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
In an interview with the Russian 'TV-center' channel, to be broadcast today but recorded earlier in the week, Mr Lavrov denied any link between Iran and the missile shield.
"As for the missile shield, we have already repeatedly said publicly ... that in our expert, professional opinion, according to our deepest conviction, it has nothing to do with Iran's nuclear programme," Mr Lavrov said, according to a transcript published by Itar-Tass news agency.
"It is linked to strategic stability ... and directly affects the strategic arsenal of the Russian Federation."
However, Mr Lavrov stressed in the interview, and in one with German news magazine Der Spiegel, that Russia was open to dialogue with the United States.
He said Russia proposed cooperating with the United States and Europe on a missile shield a year and a half ago.
"It's not too late. We could sit down at the negotiating table and evaluate the situation," Lavrov is quoted as saying in the Der Spiegel interview to be published on Monday, excerpts of which were released today.
Russia and the United States agree that world security would be threatened if Iran acquired nuclear weapons but they disagree over whether Tehran is actively pursuing a weapons programme. Iran says its nuclear programme is for power generation only.
Mr Lavrov said Russia wanted to work more closely with the West due to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and welcomed signals from President Barack Obama's administration on Iran.
"We are delighted that Barack Obama and his team is speaking about the necessity to take a fresh look at the situation.
They are saying America would look for possibilities to speak directly with Iran. That is what Russia has been pushing for for the last four years," he said.
Plans for the missile defence shield have contributed to a deterioration in US-Russian ties, but the Obama administration has said it wants to press the 'reset button' and build good relations with Moscow.
Undersecretary of State William Burns held talks in Moscow in which he signalled the United States was ready to look at remodelling its missile defence plans to include Moscow.
Russia viewed the plan to site missiles in Poland and a radar tracking station in the Czech Republic as a threat to its security in its traditional backyard.
US Vice President Joe Biden told a security conference in Germany last week the United States would press ahead with the shield, but only if it was proven to work and cost-effective.
The Kremlin has been pressing Washington to give ground on the missile shield in exchange for Russian help supplying the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan.