Secretaries Rice and Gates arrived in Moscow for another round of talks in the 2+2 format - with their counterparts at the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And, of course, for the meetings in Kremlin.
Missile defense, of course, will be on the agenda. It is frustrating to see that this completely artificial controversy around a useless system consumes that much attention, time, and effort, but this is where the U.S.-Russian relationships are today.
The U.S. officials sound cautiously optimistic about the prospects of reaching some kind of resolution this time, but it is not quite clear what has changed since the last 2+2 meeting in October 2007. At that time, the United States floated the idea of a delay with activating the system "until there was concrete proof of the threat from Iran". That was something that Russia seemed to be willing to consider, but the United States took the offer back - Yuri Baluyevskiy and Sergei Lavrov both complained that when Russia received the formal U.S. offer there was nothing about the delay there.
U.S. officials admitted that they "tweaked" the original proposal, but they are too shy to say exactly how (and reporters are too shy to ask). What happened was that instead of the delay with deployment Russia was offered access to the missile defense sites to monitor the deployment. It's a good idea, no doubt, but it's not even close to the original proposal. Which explains why it got "mixed reaction" from Russia.
This time there is no talk about the delay on the U.S. side - only about monitoring. Robert Gates said that he is not bringing any new proposals to Moscow. And Russia most likely would not believe him even if he were - last time it did not work very well.