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Will Obama trade missile defense curbs for Russian arms cuts?

His administration isn't that interested in a missile shield in Europe, but seems unlikely to concede it in upcoming talks.

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Missile defense is an issue that has split Washington and Moscow for decades. And it is likely to remain a point of contention when President Obama visits Russia next week – despite the fact that Mr. Obama is less enthusiastic than his predecessor about US plans to erect missile defense facilities in Eastern Europe.

Ironically, the fact that Obama is less supportive of the concept may also make him less likely to yield to Russian demands for curbs on missile defense, at least for now, say some experts.

"I think the administration finds itself painted a little bit into a corner on missile defense," said Andrew Kuchins, a Russia expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, at a July 2 briefing in advance of Obama's trip. "It's simply not very politic right now to be viewed as making any concessions to the Russians, who don't seem to be particularly interested in making concessions themselves."

The subject is sure to come up in the context of arms talks, as the US and Russia work to forge a new nuclear weapons reduction treaty to replace the venerable START 1 pact, which expires in December. Kremlin leaders have said they want the US missile defense plans for Eastern Europe scrapped as part of any such agreement.

On Friday, Kremlin foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko said that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Obama are expected to sign a declaration of understanding on arms reductions as part of their meetings, which begin July 6.

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