U.S. and Russian defense leaders said Tuesday they are still divided over the planned missile defense system in Europe but will continue talks to try to resolve the differences.
The issue, which has been simmering for several years, was a major topic during a meeting between Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, although the ongoing military strikes in Libya _ and Russian opposition to them _ grabbed the headlines.
"We continue to have an intensive discussion on missile defense cooperation and although we still have differences that need to be resolved, we continue to make progress," Gates said after the meeting.
Moscow leaders have said the proposed missile defense plan, which is aimed at countering future Iranian threats, could be aimed at Russian missiles or could undermine Russia's security interests. The plan, which is under way, begins with ship-based, anti-missile interceptors and radars, and would add land-based radars in Southern Europe
Speaking through an interpreter Tuesday, Serdyukov said that there is no simple answer to the missile defense debate, but he added that the two countries are sharing views on a possible way to resolve it. Cooperation, he said, is better than confrontation.
The four-phase plan would put land- and sea-based radars and interceptors in several European locations over the next decade.
Gates was expected to also meet Tuesday with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
In other comments to reporters, Gates declined to say whether the U.S. continues to support embattled Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh, or if officials now want him out.
But he said that the U.S. is concerned about instability in Yemen, where al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is based. He said his primary concern is that the instability diverts Yemen's attention away from dealing with AQAP.
AQAP is al-Qaida's most dangerous franchise, and it has been behind a number of recent attacks against America, including the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day 2009 and the failed mail bomb plot involving cargo planes last summer.
Saleh pledged to step down more than a year early but refused to immediately resign on Tuesday, infuriating tens of thousands of demonstrators demanding his ouster.
The opposition said it would not accept his offer to resign by year's end in response to nationwide anti-government protests, which have swelled dramatically since security forces opened fatally shot more than 40 demonstrators on Friday.