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Gates sees Russia rift on U.S. plan

The defense chief said Moscow was conflicted on how to respond to missile-defense efforts.

BERLIN - The Russian government, while publicly critical of a U.S. plan to install missile-defense bases in Eastern Europe, is internally conflicted by it, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday in Berlin.

Gates appeared to refer not only to the proposed bases in Poland and the Czech Republic but also a new offer presented to Moscow last week on new ways to work together on strategic missile defense.

"There clearly have to be divisions in Moscow on how to respond, frankly," Gates said at a news conference with German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung. "It doesn't surprise me."

He did not cite specific evidence of an internal debate, and Russia's public statements have been uniformly negative.

Gates said it was at the urging of German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the Bush administration decided to intensify its consultations with Moscow on missile defense.

He said that about two weeks ago Russian President Vladimir V. Putin asked Bush to send Gates to Moscow for detailed talks on the subject.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is meeting with her Russian counterpart this week at a NATO meeting in Norway.

It was possible, Gates said, that the Russians thought that in his public comments he had characterized his talks in Moscow "too warmly." The implication is that the Russians might have felt compelled to respond even more critically.