#10 - JRL 7214
Mutual suspicion mars Russia-US missile defense cooperation
MOSCOW, June 8 (AFP) - Moscow and Washington have set joint missile defense cooperation as a priority, but US misgivings about Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran and Moscow's reluctance to share military secrets may get in the way of achieving that objective.
Russia and the United States have stated their intention "to develop specific joint projects in the sphere of missile defense" in a joint declaration following a summit between US President George W. Bush and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin last Sunday.
This reaffirms an objective stated earlier in a strategic partnership declaration the two leaders signed during their May, 2002 summit.
And a senior US diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the two sides had "made very good progress in the senior working group" devoted to this issue.
He noted however that "specific projects have not yet been identified."
For Washington refuses to move forward unless Moscow gives in to US pressure and slows down, or even stops, the construction of a nuclear power plant in Iran, which the United States says Tehran could use to develop nuclear weapons.
The Russians, on the other hand, fear that the United States is merely interested in grabbing the "crown jewels" of their defense industry, as a Western diplomat put it, but will not share future profits with Moscow.
"This cooperation should not result in a process in which each (partner) is cherry-picking among the other's assets," the Yezhenedyelny Zhurnal weekly quoted Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov as saying during a recent visit to the United States.
Russia remains officially opposed to Washington's global missile defense project, which is intended to protect the United States against a long-range missile strike.
Western military sources have suggested that the real reason for Moscow's hostility is that it is financially unable to match US investments in missile defense.
The Kremlin changed its stance in January and endorsed cooperation, after the United States held out for Moscow the prospect of future profits large enough to shore up this key sector of its defense industry.
"There is ample opportunity for commercial cooperation (with Russia) ... but it will remain blocked until (the issue of Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran) is solved," the US diplomat said.
There is also a legal hurdle, as US legislation bars the United States from cooperating with a country encouraging nuclear proliferation, something Washington suspects Moscow of doing.
But Putin, while greenlighting missile defense cooperation with Washington last January, also set conditions of his own, insisting that the United States must respect Moscow's "intellectual property" regarding Russian innovative military technologies.
Negative experiences in the past, going back to the early 1990s, have given Russia every reason to be wary, the head of international cooperation at the Russian defense ministry, General Yury Baluyevsky, recently told the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
"We had a technology in which NATO, or a country belonging to NATO, was interested. (This country) purchased that technology, and immediately went on to forget" from whom it had bought it, Baluyevsky said.
According to Russian and US press articles, the United States in 1994 managed to purchase Russia's S-300 anti-aircraft defense system which, experts say, can also be used as an anti-missile system, and was a precursor to later versions, the S-400, and the S-500 project.
Missile defense cooperation is at a more advanced stage between Russia and NATO. The two parties have agreed to carry out a study on the joint operation of short and middle range (from 600 to 1,300 kilometers, 375 to 800 miles) missile defense systems.
As for US-Russian cooperation, "it is not realistic to expect it to yield concrete results, even in one or two years," Ivanov said.