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Saturday, 24 February, 2001, 14:17 GMT
Powell opens talks with Moscow
Igor Ivanov and Colin Powell
Meeting billed as a get-to-know-you session
US Secretary of State Colin Powell is meeting the Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov for talks expected to be dominated by US missile defence plans and sanctions against Iraq.

Mr Powell is in Cairo at the start of a six-nation tour of the Middle East, his first foreign trip since taking office.


This is the beginning of the engagement between the Bush administration and the Putin administration

Colin Powell
Russia is strongly opposed to US missile defence plans.

But the meeting has been billed as a get-to-know-you session and no major breakthroughs are expected on such a lengthy and tricky issue.

Mr Powell was quoted as saying before the meeting that he expected to be "candid" with Mr Ivanov.

Rival plans

"This is the beginning of the engagement between the Bush administration and the Putin administration," he said.

Anti-missile missile
Russia opposes US missile defence plans
Mr Bush said on Friday he was confident of persuading other countries to accept a US missile defence shield.

But Russia believes that plans for the shield, which is meant to provide protection against nuclear attack by so-called "rogue states", would provoke a new arms race.

It has proposed to Nato its own much cheaper defensive shield, involving a mobile anti-missile system which could be deployed quickly to counter any threat.

But Western analysts say the proposal may be a ploy to divide the US from its European partners, who are lukewarm about NMD.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently angered Moscow by saying that Russia was itself to blame for the US programme because it had been an "active proliferator", spreading nuclear know-how.

Iraq policy

There is also expected to be disagreement with Mr Ivanov over Iraq. Russia vehemently opposed US and British air strikes against Baghdad last week.

Vladimir Putin
The Russian president criticised the recent bombing of Iraq
The trip is being seen partly as an attempt by Mr Powell to improve relations with Middle Eastern countries following the bombing.

Correspondents say the challenge for the United States is to stop Iraq obtaining military technologies while ensuring that Baghdad cannot blame sanctions for the hardships of ordinary Iraqis.

The sanctions, first imposed in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait, were initially supported by most Arab countries.

But the measures have been crumbling, with more and more oil being exported from Iraq outside the UN system.

Crowded trip

He will also meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, before travelling on to Tel Aviv.

The other stops on the crowded four-day schedule are Jerusalem, Gaza, Amman, Kuwait, Damascus and Riyadh, with a day in Brussels on his way home on Tuesday.

In Israel he will listen to the proposals of the parties involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict, but with Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon still trying to form a government, US officials do not expect any bold initiatives.

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22 Feb 01 | Middle East
Analysis: A tougher line?
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