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Russia accuses US on missile shield

A top Russian official on Tuesday accused the new US administration of intensifying missile defence plans and warned that Moscow sees no basis for big cuts to its nuclear arsenal.

In an interview with Interfax news agency, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov revived threats to site Iskander strategic missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave near Poland if Washington's missile shield plans in Europe went ahead.

"The Americans have not reviewed their plans and I don't think this can happen. On the contrary, we see an intensification of work in the area of missile defence, including within the format of NATO," he said.

Regarding Moscow's possible deployment of missiles to Kaliningrad, a territory surrounded by European Union and NATO states, he said: "No one has changed this position.... If there is no missile shield, there won't be any Iskanders."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev first voiced the threat to place the short-range ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad, but later pulled back amid signs of warming ties.

The Russian comments heighten tensions just as the two sides are due to sit down for talks in Rome on Friday on creating a successor treaty to a Soviet-era arms-control accord, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).

Ryabkov said he saw little likelihood of radical cuts under current circumstances.

"Conditions are not ripe and there is no basis today to consider radical reductions" of Russia's strategic weapons, he said.

The issue of missile defence poisoned relations between Russia and the United States in the second term of president George W. Bush.

There had been hopes of a sustained improvement in ties under the administrations of Obama and his Russian counterpart Medvedev, after the two sides agreed to a "reset" in relations.

The US missile shield plans involve placing a radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland. Washington has portrayed them as a defence against "rogue states" such as Iran rather than against Russia's huge arsenal.

Russia however has said the plans directly threaten its security.

Ryabkov's boss, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, last week described US moves to allay Russian concerns about the shield as "symbolic".

Earlier this month Obama said he would move ahead with the missile shield as Iran remained a "real threat" but added that the system needed to be "cost-effective and proven."

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Publication:AFP Global Edition
Date:Apr 21, 2009
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