U.S. Calls 2012 Deal With Russia on Missile Shield Unlikely

Yet, on eve of Moscow conference, officials deny that talks on European shield plans have stalled.

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Senior U.S. officials concede that a deal is unlikely this year with Moscow over a disputed American missile defense plan, but they insist that the talks are far from stalled and that plans to begin erecting a shield in Russia's back yard will continue unabated.

U.S. officials say the system is designed to intercept Iranian missiles aimed at European targets, but Moscow believes it could instead take down Russian missiles should they be fired.

Washington has secured agreements from Poland, Romania, and Turkey to place elements of the envisioned shield on their turf. And despite rocky relations with Russia, Ellen Tauscher, the State Department's special envoy for strategic stability and missile defense, told reporters Wednesday that the U.S. is moving ahead with its missile plans.

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"There is nothing I can imagine that will keep us from deploying the system as planned," Tauscher said, speaking via teleconference from Moscow, where the Russian government is hosting a conference on missile defense.

But U.S. officials plan to continue efforts to convince their Russian counterparts the system is not aimed at Moscow's intercontinental missile fleet.

Russia just completed a presidential election, and the U.S. is entering a presidential campaign. "We have to recognize we're in a political season," Tauscher said.

That means 2012 is "a year in which we're probably not going to achieve any breakthrough," said Madelyn Creedon, assistant secretary of defense for Global Strategic Affairs. Still, U.S. officials intend to keep up efforts to convince Moscow otherwise.

Tauscher told reporters the Obama administration has not, contrary to Republican lawmakers' charges, agreed to any Russian plan "that would prevent us from defending ourselves."

U.S.-Russian relations returned to the front pages in March after Obama urged outgoing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to "give me space" on several issues, including the missile defense shield.

Likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney soon after called Russia America's "top geopolitical enemy."

John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at jbennett@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.

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