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Castro is cryptic on bomber report

THE WORLD

July 24, 2008|From Times Wire Reports

HAVANA — Fidel Castro said Wednesday that his brother President Raul Castro was right to adopt a "dignified silence" over a Moscow newspaper report that Russia may refuel nuclear bombers on the island, and said Cuba doesn't owe Washington any explanation about the report.

In a brief, cryptic essay posted on a government website, the ailing 81-year-old former president neither confirmed nor denied the report Monday in Izvestia, which said Russia could land Tu-160 supersonic bombers in Cuba in response to a planned U.S. missile defense shield in Europe that Moscow opposes.

On Tuesday, U.S. Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that if the Russians did refuel the bombers in Cuba, "we should stand strong and indicate that that is something that crosses a threshold, crosses a red line for the United States of America."

Russian officials have denied the Izvestia report, but the dust-up has stirred memories of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis sparked by the discovery of Soviet missiles on the island.

The two-week crisis brought the U.S. and the then-Soviet Union close to war until the Soviets agreed to take down the missiles in exchange for a U.S. pledge not to invade Cuba and to remove U.S. missiles from Turkey.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Gonzalo R. Gallegos said that American officials had received no official confirmation from the Russian government about the newspaper report and that he was unaware of any U.S. efforts to contact Moscow about it.

Despite Cuba's onetime alliance with the former Soviet Union, it seems unlikely that Raul Castro would allow Russian bombers on the island and risk the ire of the U.S. government.

Raul Castro, president since February, has repeatedly said he is willing to discuss the two countries' differences in talks held on equal terms, with America's next president.

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