Envoy Hints at Moscow Cooperation on Missile Defense; Expresses 'Cautious Optimism' after Meeting with Top U.S. Officials

Article excerpt

Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A senior Russian official yesterday expressed "cautious optimism" that Moscow and Washington will be able to collaborate on a defensive missile shield that the Kremlin once violently opposed.

"It is still too early to talk about the prospects for cooperation, but I can take the risk of expressing very cautious optimism in this regard," said the senior Kremlin official, who briefed reporters on background yesterday at the Russian Embassy here after meetings with President Bush and senior administration officials this week.

The official said Russian specialists had put several concrete proposals for missile defense cooperation to their American counterparts, and "we are hoping for a U.S. response very soon."

The new Russian flexibility on missile defense is a major breakthrough for the U.S. administration, which had pushed the defensive shield in the face of widespread international opposition.

The Washington Times reported Wednesday that the White House has issued a new national security policy directive affirming the U.S. intention to push for a global missile-defense system.

Sharp differences over the war in Iraq strained U.S.-Russian relations in recent months, but the Russian official was upbeat after his talks that the rift would not prove lasting.

"The crisis in Russian-American relations and the broader crisis in international relations is over," he said.

Russia, which had extensive political and economic ties to the regime of Saddam Hussein, joined with France in opposing the U.S.-led military campaign, and President Vladimir Putin has mocked the failure so far of U.S. and British forces to find stocks of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But both sides have moved to heal the breach with remarkable speed.

The Russian official, the most senior Kremlin official to visit Washington since the end of the fighting in Iraq, delivered a statement from Mr. Putin to Mr. Bush saying Moscow was "prepared to develop cooperation with the United States in all spheres. …