WASHINGTON, March 26 (UPI) -- U.S. and Russian defense leaders agreed that their departments would resume talks on the controversial European missile shield, the Pentagon said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Russian Defense Secretary Sergey Shoygu discussed the missile shield during a telephone conversation Monday, the U.S. Defense Department said in a readout of the conversation.
"Minister Shoygu expressed his desire to reconvene missile defense discussions with the U.S. at the deputy minister level. Secretary Hagel agreed and reiterated that this is an important part of U.S.-Russian relations," the readout provided by Pentagon press secretary George Little said. "He assured Minister Shoygu that these discussions would continue and be carried forward by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Dr. Jim Miller."
Russia and NATO initially agreed to cooperate on the missile defense system during the 2010 Lisbon, Portugal, summit; however, talks have stalled over NATO's refusal to provide Russia with legal guarantees that the system would not be aimed against Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent. NATO and the United States have said the shield would defend Europe against missiles from rogue states such as North Korea and Iran.
The two defense leaders also discussed the security transition in Afghanistan, with Hagel assuring Shoygu that the handover of security responsibilities was progressing as the Afghan security forces improved, the readout said.
"Further, Secretary Hagel encouraged close bilateral cooperation on a variety of other issues of mutual concern, including on Syria, North Korea, and Iran," the readout said.