US, French ministers urge firm but flexible approach to Russia - FAP (05.06.07)
PARIS, June 5, 2007 (AFP) - US and French defence ministers joined Tuesday in calling for a firm but flexible approach toward Moscow following threats by Russian President Vladimir Putin to retaliate for a US missile shield by targeting Europe. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who discussed Russia at a meeting here with his French counterpart Herve Morin, said he was "puzzled by what the Russians are doing. I think it is important to try to be flexible in addressing their concerns on a number of different issues. At the same time, we should not be in the position of allowing them to obstruct progress in a number of areas". Morin, who joined Gates at a news conference, told reporters : "We use the same words. At the same time, have a firm dialogue with our position reaffirmed firmly but with the necessary flexibility. It is in nobody’s interest to create conditions that recall older times", Morin said. Neither man directly addressed Moscow’s bitter complaints over US plans to install a missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, former Soviet bloc states that are now members of NATO. With a G8 summit set to begin this week in Germany, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Russia would point missiles at European targets if the United States expands its missile defense system near Russia’s borders. "If the US nuclear potential extends across the European territory, we will get new targets in Europe," he said in an interview with newspapers from the Group of Eight industrialised nations. "It will then be up to our military experts to identify which targets will be aimed at by ballistic missiles and which ones will be aimed at by cruise missiles," he said. The United States insists that the interceptor missiles and radar it plans to install in Europe are designed to counter a potential missile threat from Iran, but would be easily overwhelmed by Russia’s arsenal of missiles. The missile defence dispute is only one of a several irritants in relations with Moscow. A UN recommendation to grant Kosovo internationally supervised independence from Serbia is another. Morin, who recently returned from a visit to Kosovo, said the situation there, although improved, was still fragile. "But on this issue and others we must establish a dialogue so that together we can assure the stability of Europe and resolve issues like the missile defence system the Americans have developed," Morin said. Gates told reporters, "Above all, we would prefer they partner with us and be our ally in pursuing a number of these initiatives."Defence relations between France and the United States, which were severely strained by the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, appear to be making a comeback with the election last month of President Nicolas Sarkozy. Gates, who was welcomed with full military honors at the French Defense Ministry, is the first foreign defence chief to come here since Sarkozy’s victory. His predecessor Donald Rumsfeld never went to Paris during his more than six years in office, and the last visit by a US defense secretary was nearly 10 years ago. Morin will travel with Gates Wednesday to the American Cemetery at Coleville-sur-Mer in Normandy to commemorate the 63rd anniversary of the D-Day invasion.