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Joint Chiefs head urges engagement with Russia

September 23, 2008|Peter Spiegel | Times Staff Writer

The Pentagon's top officer said Monday that the U.S. should resist expanding its military isolation of Moscow, arguing that the nations have too many common interests for relations to become more strained in the wake of Russia's incursion into Georgia last month.

Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said measures taken after the conflict -- including the cancellation or postponement of military exercises and visits -- may have been warranted. But continuing such practices could be counterproductive, he said.

"In a crisis, there's always an immediate reaction; we did that," Mullen said during a meeting with The Times' editorial board. "I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. They're going to be an important player for a long time and we are going to have to have a relationship with them."

Mullen's comments, which come days after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urged similar restraint, are part of a growing chorus from senior Pentagon officials urging reduction in anti-Russian rhetoric and reengagement with Moscow.

Some conservatives have criticized the Bush administration for taking a restrained approach toward Russia's actions in Georgia. Republican presidential candidate John McCain has advocated that Moscow be further isolated and that Georgia be supported at all costs.

Mullen said the Kremlin must live up to its commitment to withdraw from Georgia, but Russia and the U.S. need to work together on such issues as Iran, counter-terrorism and nuclear nonproliferation.

Unless military relations with Moscow resume, he said, a generation of Russian officers will have little understanding of, or ties to, their counterparts in the U.S. -- and that could further undermine relations.

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peter.spiegel@latimes.com

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