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Possible US-Russia deal this weekend may include limits on missile defenses in Europe
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    COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Scrambling to seal a missile defense deal this weekend, the U.S. is offering guarantees to assure the Russians the system isn’t a European military threat aimed at them.
    A key pledge: The U.S. won’t activate new sites in Poland and the Czech Republic unless Iran proves itself an imminent threat to Europe by test-flying a missile capable of reaching the continent.
    A broader but less-specific agreement seems assured when President Bush sits down with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. That would be a ‘‘strategic framework’’ for relations between the two countries after Bush and Putin leave office.
    But the White House seems to think there could be a bigger breakthrough, on the defense system to guard Europe against a missile attack from Iran or elsewhere.
    The proposed limitation linked to Iran testing is one of several measures designed to assuage Russian security concerns. It’s not yet clear whether they are enough to persuade Moscow to go along.
    ‘‘Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work to do to allay suspicions and old fears, but I think we’re making pretty good progress along those lines,’’ Bush said Tuesday. He spoke in Kiev, Ukraine, before flying to Romania for a NATO summit where missile defense — including some Europeans’ worries about Russia’s strong objections — will be on the agenda. Bush is hoping NATO will announce its support.
    If Bush and Putin fail to settle differences on missile defense, their meeting still might be declared a success if, as expected, the two men say they have an understanding on the most important issues that Washington and Moscow should deal with as both capitals transition to new leaders.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday in Moscow the document setting out a ‘‘strategic vision of the future’’ should be adopted at the Bush-Putin meeting. It will touch on the tough issues in Russian-U.S. relations, he said.
    U.S. officials have said that a ‘‘strategic framework,’’ or agenda for further talks, is intended to highlight areas of agreement between the former Cold War foes — such as their efforts against global terrorist networks — and indicate that relations hold promise for the future.
    The framework probably would mention missile defense as well as future arms reductions negotiations, although it would not necessarily mean the two sides agree on solutions in those areas. For example, it probably would not include a Russian statement in support of U.S. missile defense in Europe but would say this is among the high-priority issues that future administrations should address, along with NATO.
    Putin is to be succeeded as president in early May by Dmitry Medvedev, and Bush will leave office in January.
    In remarks prepared for delivery Wednesday in Bucharest, Bush highlighted his push for missile defense.
    ‘‘The need for missile defense in Europe is real and it is urgent,’’ he said. ‘‘Iran is pursuing technology that could be used to produce nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles of increasing range that could deliver them.’’
    He added: ‘‘Iranian officials have declared that they are developing missiles with a range of 1,200 miles which would give them the capability to reach us right here in Romania. And our intelligence community assesses that, with continued foreign assistance, Iran could test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States and all of Europe should it choose to do so.’’
    Alluding to efforts to agree on an agenda for future relations with Russia, Bush said, ‘‘We are working toward a new security relationship with Russia whose foundation does not rest on the prospect of mutual annihilation.’’
    Senior administration officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have made it clear that if Russians won’t budge that will not stop Washington from continuing to pursue missile defense arrangements in Europe. The U.S. is negotiating with Poland for the right to station 10 missile interceptors there and with the Czech Republic to install a tracking radar as a vital part of the missile defense network.
    The U.S. plan is to have the European elements ready for limited use by 2011 and fully operational by 2013.
    Asked about the prospects for a breakthrough at Sochi, Gates told reporters Tuesday in Copenhagen that he saw reason for optimism but was not ready to predict the Russians would decide the time is right for a deal.
    ‘‘I gave up predicting when I left CIA,’’ Gates said, referring to his departure from the spy agency in January 1993 after a career that included years as an analyst of the former Soviet Union.
    ‘‘The Russians are probably never going to like missile defense,’’ Gates said. ‘‘But I think the assurances that we have provided and the mechanisms that we have proposed give them assurance that it is not aimed at them, and my hope is that that will lead to positive outcomes’’ in Bucharest and Sochi.
    The assurances to which Gates referred were given when he and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met in Moscow last month with Putin and other senior Russians. Gates said he was confident that those talks ‘‘had a real impact on’’ the Russians, though they produced no agreement then.
    Gates said Monday that he expects a public statement of support for missile defense by the allies at this week’s NATO summit.
    ‘‘To the degree there have been reservations among some here in western Europe about missile defense, in part it has been concern over the Russian reaction,’’ Gates said at a joint news conference Tuesday with his Danish counterpart, Soeren Gade, who described himself as an ardent supporter of missile defense.
    The Bush administration boosted the U.S. budget for missile defense when it took office in 2001 and now spends $10 billion a year on it.
    Linking the system to developments in Iran is important because it addresses one of the Russians’ main arguments against U.S. missile defense in Europe, namely that it is being designed with Russia’s arsenal in mind, not Iran’s. The Russians say that Iran does not yet have a missile capable of striking Europe.
    During meetings with Czech officials last fall, Gates first publicly stated the administration’s willingness to not activate the systems in Poland and the Czech Republic until Iran had conducted flight tests of a missile capable of reaching Europe. At the time he said Washington would wait for ‘‘definitive proof’’ of an Iranian threat.
    The administration also has proposed giving the Russians a right to send monitors to the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic — but only if the Czech and Polish governments agree in advance — as a way of reassuring them that the bases are being used as advertised.
    Gates also has proposed negotiating limitations on the size and scope of the missile defense facilities in Europe in order to ensure that they would not grow later and become a threat to Russia’s missile arsenal. It is not clear whether that offer is still part of the talks with Moscow.