SANTIAGO - Russia has signaled a new openness toward a US missile defense program for Eastern Europe, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday.
The missile defense plan angered Russia, which has seen it as a Western provocation at its doorstep. Moscow's interest prompted Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to make last-minute plans to visit Russia next week.
Rice said she would not go so far as to say that Russia's opposition to the plan had diminished, but she said Moscow has recently expressed enough interest in certain aspects of the latest US proposal that it was worth setting up a face-to-face meeting.
Speaking to reporters during a Latin American trip, Rice declined to say which aspects of the program would be discussed. Gates and Rice went to Moscow last fall to present several ideas intended to encourage Russian cooperation and make the program easier for the Kremlin to accept.
They got a chilly reception from President Vladimir V. Putin and senior Russian officials at the time, but lower-level officials have been meeting since then and have apparently made some progress.
"We thought that there had been enough interest shown . . . that it might be worth Bob Gates and I going out to see whether or not we can clarify and develop some of the ideas that we have put on the table when we were in Moscow the last time," Rice said.
The United States and Russia have wrangled over terms for Russian monitoring of planned missile and radar sites in Poland and the Czech Republic.