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Russian critical of U.S. plan for missile defense

February 10, 2007|Peter Spiegel | Times Staff Writer

SEVILLE, SPAIN — Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on Friday criticized moves by the U.S. to deploy parts of its missile defense system in Eastern Europe, saying the plan to base interceptor rockets and radars in Poland and the Czech Republic appeared to be aimed at shooting down Russian weapons.

Ivanov was in Spain for a regular meeting between the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's defense ministers and their Russian counterpart, and his remarks came just hours after his first face-to-face meeting with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, in which the two discussed the U.S. missile defense plans.

At a news conference following the meeting, the Russian minister said observers need only "look at the school globe" to counter U.S. arguments that the Europe-based system was needed to destroy North Korean missiles, adding that American claims Iran posed a threat to Europe were equally specious.

"Again, take a look at the map and calculate what territories can be reached by Iranian missiles," Ivanov said, arguing that Tehran's current capabilities don't allow its weaponry to reach beyond the Middle East and Central Asia. "In order to achieve the goal [of reaching Europe], there is a need to have an absolutely different defense industry in [Iran]."

The U.S. announced last month that it had opened negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic as part of the Pentagon's expanding missile defense system -- currently operated in a limited form with radars and interceptors in California and Alaska -- to base similar technologies in their countries. The U.S. is seeking to put interceptor missiles in Poland and antimissile radars in the Czech Republic.

Ivanov has raised similar objections in recent weeks, but U.S. officials insisted he had also already acknowledged there was little threat posed by the system to Russian missiles. Asked if he understood Russian objections, Gates replied, "Not really."

"We've made quite clear to them that it's not directed at them," Gates told reporters traveling with him on his two-stop European swing.

A senior Pentagon official traveling with Gates said Ivanov raised the issue in his private meeting with Gates but that the objection was made perfunctorily since the U.S. is already well aware of Russian views on the matter.

"I must say, the tone could not have been more civil," the official said of the bilateral meeting. "Missile defense is an issue we agree to disagree on. We said, 'Look, we'll keep talking about it.' "

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity when discussing private bilateral meetings, said Ivanov did not mention the question of Iran's capabilities but that the Pentagon disagreed with Ivanov's assessment.

"It's not an issue of what's [Iranian missile range] today; it's what they're developing," the official said.

"The Iranians keep expanding the range of their missiles. It's a matter of time."

At his news conference, Ivanov said Moscow would respond to U.S. intentions to deploy the system in Europe by developing ways to counter it. But he added that any countermeasures would be simple, inexpensive systems, believed to include such technologies as decoy missiles.

"This will not harm the Russian deterrence," he said. "We will not be back in an arms race."

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