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US Calls Russian Missile Threat 'Unfortunate'

05 July 2007

The United States Thursday termed "unfortunate" a threat by a senior Russian official to counter a U.S. missile defense system in Europe with new offensive deployments. But the State Department says the Bush administration is otherwise having a constructive dialogue with Moscow on the issue. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here are not dismissing the missile threat by Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov out of hand. But they say it runs counter to suggestions by other Russian leaders, notably President Vladimir Putin, that Moscow is ready for constructive talks on regional missile defense.

Ivanov, a former Russian defense minister, generated news headlines Wednesday with a warning that Moscow would place new offensive missiles in its Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, bordering Poland, if a U.S. plan for anti-missile sites in Poland and the Czech Republic goes forward.

The Bush administration says the radar facility in Czech Republic and a battery of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland are needed to guard against a potential missile threat from Iran.

Despite U.S. assurances that the system is not aimed at Russia, Moscow contends it would undermine its strategic missile deterrence.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the Ivanov comments were unfortunate and not constructive, and also said they were in marked contrast to positive conversations on missile defense that Presidents Bush and Putin had last Sunday and Monday in Kennebunkport, Maine:

"My read from the Kennebunkport meetings was that there was actually a good discussion on the issue of missile defense, and I think toward the end of those meetings, you had President Putin talking in terms of a discussion on a regional architecture for dealing with missile defense, and also acknowledging the fact there is a threat," said Sean McCormack. "So that's positive. And while we have not bridged what are obvious differences on missile defense, I think that there's a very constructive conversation going on now."

The Russian president proposed in Maine that the two countries collaborate on a regional missile defense system that would include a radar facility in southern Russia and another operated by Russia in Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic that borders Iran.

Spokesman McCormack said technical experts of the two sides will meet soon to follow-up on the presidential talks and that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates would have so-called "two-plus-two" meetings on the subject with their Russian counterparts in September or October.

However a senior diplomat who spoke to reporters here said the U.S. willingness to discuss the matter does not mean the plan for anti-missile sites in Poland and the Czech Republic has become negotiable.

He also said the program, which aims to have the missile shield operating by 2012, is still moving forward although there have been moves in Congress to limit the project.

The U.S. diplomat refused to speculate on why Ivanov made the hardline comments only a few days after the seemingly productive presidential meeting, saying "it is hard to get inside" Russian politics.

Ivanov is considered a leading contender to succeed Mr. Putin as president next year. Ivanov said if the Russian anti-missile proposal is not accepted, Moscow will find an "asymmetrical and effective" response.

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