Missile cooperation more than just a pipe dream

The East and West have the potential for a ‘real breakthrough’ in their relations if they pursue the shared goal of opposing Iran, according to the chairman of the U.S. Senate armed services committee.

Carl Levin stated that now is the right time for the two countries to create a missile defence together with the aim of countering a potential Iranian threat. The official said that he had already discussed the issue with the new administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and with some Russian officials.

The senior Democrat said that the key to improving relations is to focus on the two sides’ shared desire to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Moscow has previously announced that it is ready to cooperate with the U.S., saying it will not station missiles near the Polish border if the U.S. ditches plans for a missile shield in Europe.

“We are ready for any developments, but we hope a new window of opportunity will open to reload our relations and put them on a stable course after a period of extra turbulence last year. We hope there will be changes for the better in Washington's foreign policy,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says.

Last year, Washington signed agreements to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic to counter possible threats from countries like Iran.

Moscow says the move would threaten Russia’s national security.

Thus the plans pushed strongly by the Bush Administration to deploy antimissile systems near Russia’s borders became one of the key hurdles that Russia and the U.S. have been unable to clear. Now it could be that the window of opportunity that Russia’s Foreign Minister mentioned has at last been opened.

“I'm very open to the idea of pursuing further cooperation on missile defence with Russia,” U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates says.

As a counter-measure against U.S. plans for defence systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, Russia planned to deploy its own tactical missile systems in Kaliningrad, its most western exclave, and, more importantly, right on Europe’s doorstep.

Now the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs says these deployments could be suspended:

“We've pointed out many times that the Iskander missile deployment in Kaliningrad is only a response to U.S. plans to go ahead with antimissile systems in Europe. If there's no U.S. AMD system at our borders, we won't be placing any missiles in our western territories.”

For a long time, a large part of the people living in the Eastern-European countries involved, have been opposed to the idea of radar and missile installations on their territories. They were afraid of becoming the first victims should any conflict occur.

Now they also seem to feel an ease of tension.

“We've been protesting against this project from the very first day because we believe that this is a step in a wrong direction. It would not make Europe a better place and it would not make the world a better place. On the contrary, it would increase international tension,” ‘No to Bases’ movement head Jan Tamas says.

The friendly signals that Moscow and Washington have been exchanging are not yet written on paper, but they could be the first step to a new and friendlier partnership of both words and actions.