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By Margarita Antidze
TBILISI (Reuters) - The United States does not envisage placing any elements of a revised missile defence system within non-NATO members and is not in consultations with any such states, a senior U.S. defence official said on Tuesday.
The comments by U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defence Alexander Vershbow followed concern expressed in Russia last week at reports Washington was in talks with Ukraine over a revised defence shield.
"We are not consulting with any non-NATO countries and we do not envisage the placement of elements of our new architecture on the territory of non-NATO member states," Vershbow told reporters in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
Russia welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama's decision in September to scrap Bush-era plans for a missile defence system in central Europe, which it saw as neutralising its own nuclear arsenal.
But sensitive to U.S. military cooperation with former Soviet republics, Russia voiced concern last week over a U.S. statement that countries like Ukraine could contribute early warning information as part of a revised shield plan.
Ukraine's ambassador to the United States, Oleh Shamshur, was quoted by Russian news agencies last week as saying that talks with Washington on the use of radar stations had begun.
The administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush had planned to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic to repel potential attacks from Iran.
"PRELIMINARY DISCUSSIONS" WITH RUSSIA
Under Obama's new plans, sea and land-based missile interceptors would be deployed and the system would not require one large fixed radar centre in Europe.
Missile defence was one of a number of issues that helped drag U.S.-Russia relations to a post-Cold War low under Bush, alongside Russian anger over NATO's eastwards enlargement and a five-day war last year between Russia and U.S.-ally Georgia.
Obama says he wants to "reset" relations.
"We began some very preliminary discussions with Russia about possible contributions it could make with its own assets to cooperative missile defence, but these discussions are at the very early stage," Vershbow said.
He spoke after attending a meeting of a security working group under a U.S.-Georgia cooperation charter signed after last year's war, when Russia crushed a Georgian assault on the breakaway pro-Moscow region of South Ossetia.
"We are working together with our Georgian friends on a long-term programme of assistance to Georgia's efforts to carry out defence reforms and defence modernisation, and to improve its candidacy as a prospective member of NATO," he said.
Vershbow denied the United States planned to establish military bases in the former Soviet republic, a transit route for oil and gas to the West.
He said Washington was working on returning international monitors to Georgia's breakaway regions after they were forced to pull out after the war in a row with Russia over sovereignty.
(Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Richard Williams)

Reuters