By Paul Reynolds
World Affairs correspondent, BBC News website
The Russian radar at Gabala is not enough, the US says
The United States will offer to bring Russia into its proposed anti-missile defence system in talks in Moscow on Friday and Saturday.
The offer will be made by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates in discussions with their Russian counterparts, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.
The proposal was explained this way by Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, in a briefing for reporters in advance of the talks.
"We want to be able to work with Russia," he said. "The answer... is to redefine the problem so that... we and the Russians and perhaps Nato or Nato-Russia Council work together to produce a common system or a common network of systems, which will benefit everyone's security and also address Russian security concerns.
"If they're part of the system, they can be much more confident that it is not directed against them."
However, the two sides remain far apart. The US is planning to install 10 missile interceptors in Poland and an associated radar in the Czech Republic by 2012 as part of its effort to develop a system to counter future potential threats from Iran and North Korea.
Russia has objected, arguing that by bringing the system into Eastern Europe, the US would upset the strategic balance.
Instead, at their meeting in Kennebunkport in the summer, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered President Bush the use of a huge Russian radar at Gabala in Azerbaijan. Russia has also threatened to re-target missiles on Eastern Europe.
Addition not substitute
The Bush administration is determined to go ahead with its plan - though Congress is asking questions about its cost - but now appears willing to make Russia a part of it.
Missile defence is still being tested
The Russians reject the use of Poland and the Czech republic but are open to discussions about the use of Gabala.
The point at issue is that the US sees Gabala as an addition to the radar in the Czech Republic, not a substitute for it.
The director of the US Missile Defense Agency, Lieutenant General Henry Obering, said after an inspection of Gabala by American experts: "We do not anticipate, and cannot see, that what they are proposing can take the place for what we are proposing for Poland and the Czech Republic."
General Obering explained that the Russian radar offered a broad view of the horizon and would be useful for early warning. But the proposed radar in the Czech Republic was designed to focus narrowly for tracking and targeting individual missiles.
It is difficult at the moment seeing the Russians accepting a situation whereby they now accept the East European deployment, having so strongly objected to it. They might prefer to wait to see if a new US president even continues with the system.
The strategic background is the deterioration of relations between the United States and Russia in which both sides are feeling out how they are to deal with each other in future years.
Ms Rice, a Russian expert by background, still wants to engage with Russia - hence the offer to make Russia a partner in missile defence. She is supported in this by the former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who called the Putin radar offer "an intriguing proposal of potentially profound, long-range significance."
Secretary Rice recently called for a "strong" Russia, by which she meant that Russia had to develop robusts institutions all round, in its parliament, political life and its media as well as in its currently strong presidency under Mr Putin.
The Russians see such talk as interference and seem set on a course of building up their national interests.
Missile defence is not the only issue to be discussed in Moscow. There are important issues about the future of treaties on conventional weapons in Europe and intermediate range missiles as well as the long-term future of strategic missile agreements.
The handling of all these issues will show how Washington and Moscow intend to proceed.