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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Belarus says U.S. paper distorted president's missile comments

RIA Novosti

17/11/2008 12:55 MINSK, November 17 (RIA Novosti) - Belarus accused the Wall Street Journal on Monday of distorting an interview with President Alexander Lukashenko by claiming he planned to deploy Russian missiles to target the U.S. missile shield in Europe.

Russia has threatened to deploy short-range Iskander missiles in its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, which borders Poland, if the United States goes ahead with plans to set up an interceptor missile base in Poland and tracking radar in the Czech Republic.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said that the possible purchase of Iskander short-range missiles from Russia, mentioned by Lukashenko in the interview, would be for the Belarusian army, and not a response to the U.S. plans.

The article, published last Friday, "gave an absolutely false interpretation of the president's statements relating to U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile system in Europe, and on Russia's countermeasures," the statement said, noting that a transcript of the interview is available on the presidential website.

The ministry said it was regrettable that the misleading information in the article had spread so quickly through the Western media, leading to alarmist comments from analysts and politicians in various countries.

"What was being discussed was exclusively to do with the general re-arming of the Belarusian army, and changing outdated missile systems for new, more modern ones, possibly including Iskander missile systems. Clearly, re-equipping one's own army is an entirely normal and natural process for any state," the statement said.

The interview with Lukashenko was conducted in Russian, and translated into English by the Wall Street Journal.

According to the Russian transcript on Lukashenko's website, the interviewer asks: "Has there been an offer to place Russian Iskander missiles here [in Belarus], not in Kaliningrad?"

The president is quoted as answering: "Not so fast. Kaliningrad, Belarus, Russia, Iskander - you shouldn't link these things. The armaments you mention - tactical Iskander missiles - these are, of course, very serious weapons."

"If Russia does not offer to deploy these promising weapons, we will buy them ourselves. As soon as we have the money, we will buy them. We are getting rid of old military hardware, and in the future - this was planned two or three years ago - will buy new arms," he said.

When asked if he was "for or against" the Russian plans, Lukashenko said: "We absolutely support Russia in taking appropriate action, if they adequately deal with this situation. So I think that the Americans - not even the Americans, I would say, but Bush - moved too hastily with this ... without understanding it sufficiently."

Russia announced earlier this month that it planned to deploy mobile Iskander-M missile systems with a range of 500 km (310 miles) in the Kaliningrad Region if the U.S. goes ahead with its missile shield plans. The Iskander missiles would allow Russia to target almost anywhere in Poland and also parts of Germany and the Czech Republic.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said Russia will abandon the plans if the U.S. agrees not to go ahead with the missile shield.

Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington on Saturday, Medvedev said Russia's actions on the missile shield issue "will be only a response, and will only come if the [U.S.] program continues in a manner that is unacceptable to us."

"This issue is not closed, I personally am ready to discuss it, and I hope that the new president [Barack Obama] and the new administration will have the will to discuss it. The signals that we have received so far suggest that our new partners are thinking about this problem," Medvedev said.

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