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Russia urges U.S. to shelve missile plans, look for alternatives

RIA Novosti

09/06/2007 17:45

MOSCOW, June 9 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's foreign minister said Saturday the U.S. should put on hold moves to deploy a missile shield in Europe pending talks on Moscow's recent offer to jointly use a radar in Azerbaijan.

President Putin reiterated Friday at a news conference following the G8 summit in Germany that the U.S. missile defense plans are directed against a nonexistent threat, and would jeopardize Russia's national security.

"The sharing of data from this [Azerbaijan] facility will enable the United States to abandon plans to deploy missile defense elements in Europe, as well as plans to deploy space based components," Sergei Lavrov said.

He said the U.S. plans would undermine UN efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem.

"Nobody has proved that the Iranian nuclear program has a military component," Sergei Lavrov said. "Missile shield deployment in Europe may hamper [the UN] efforts and cast doubt over Iran's desire to cooperate."

He said that if the U.S. really seeks stability, it should avoid actions affecting the security of its partners, adding that the two leaders would consider the issue during Putin's visit to the U.S. July 1-2.

Putin said earlier that if Washington accepts its offer, Russia would not be forced to deploy its own missiles in its European exclave of Kaliningrad, or move its missiles closer to Russia's western borders.

Despite repeated U.S. assurances that the Central European missile shield would be directed against unpredictable states such as Iran and North Korea, the president said Moscow is convinced that the plans "jeopardize the security of Russia and its citizens."

The Gabala radar, located near the town of Minchegaur, 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the capital Baku, was leased to Russia for 10 years in 2002.

The radar has been operational since early 1985. With a range of 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles), it is the most powerful in the region and can detect any missile launches in Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa.

Under current agreements, the radar, Russia's only military facility in Azerbaijan, cannot be put into full combat mode without Baku's consent. Its status has been a source of environmental and other concerns in recent years.

In an interview with the Associated Press Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared to throw cold water on Putin's proposal, saying the U.S. would continue its talks with Poland and the Czech Republic on its missile shield plans regardless of whether negotiations begin on the Russian offer.

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