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Moscow hopes U.S. will listen to argument against missile shield

RIA Novosti

21/03/2007 13:52 MOSCOW, March 21 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's foreign minister said Moscow hoped the United States would listen to its appeal against Washington's plans to deploy a missile shield in Central Europe and the Caucasus.

The U.S. said in January it would place elements of its missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland to counter possible attacks from Iran or North Korea. Moscow has strongly criticized the move, saying it threatened Russia's security.

"We have specific proposals on how to ensure security in the region," Sergei Lavrov told Russian lawmakers. "Deploying the missile shield to cover the Caucasus, Ukraine and other countries bordering on Russia contradicts Russia's approach to security."

Washington also said March 1 that it would place other elements of its missile defense in the South Caucasus but did not specify which of the three former Soviet countries it would choose - Armenia, Azerbaijan or Georgia, with the latter being anxious to join NATO.

Lavrov called for a collective discussion of the issue, and accused the U.S. of using a Cold War approach by uniting other countries against the common "Soviet threat".

"We are facing a common threat now, but there is no more U.S.S.R., and it is unclear why the risk of Iran's possible missile launches must be countered with the missile shield," Lavrov said, adding that Russian experts would like to meet with their American counterparts over the issue.

The minister said security could be provided in a different way that would not jeopardize Russia's security, which has long been concerned about the opening of NATO bases in former Communist-bloc countries and ex-Soviet republics.

Lavrov said the U.S. would hopefully take into consideration the opinion of some European countries opposed to the plans. Calls have been made in Europe, including from Germany, for discussion on the missile shield issue in the organizations where Poland and the Czech Republic are members - NATO and the European Union.

The Russian minister also called on Ukrainian leaders, who have been eager to join the discussion on the missile shield plans, to respect the opinion of their people. Ukraine has recently been seeking integration in NATO and the EU.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of State said Ukraine was one of the countries with whom Washington was cooperating on the missile shield, but people in the former Soviet nation, particularly in the pro-Russian east of the country, have opposed any involvement.

"We believe the leadership of any country should take into account the opinion of its people," Lavrov said.

Ukraine's parliamentary speaker, Oleksandr Moroz, has said no missile shield elements would be placed on Ukrainian territory.

Ukraine's prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, said Monday the issue must be addressed at the negotiating table, adding that even NATO member states had not reached a consensus on the matter.

"We are also ready to sit down at the negotiating table, and we do have something to offer. We have space tracking systems positioned on Ukrainian soil, which, incidentally are being used jointly with Russia," he said.

Later Wednesday, Ukraine's parliament will hear reports by the Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry about possible deployment of the missile defense systems on Ukrainian soil. The government report was initiated by the parliamentary faction of the Communist Party.

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