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Rice Dismisses Russian Concerns About US Missile Defense Plan

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Thursday dismissed as "ludicrous" Russian concerns that a U.S. missile defense plan for Europe would threaten Moscow's nuclear deterrent. Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia may pull out of a central European arms control treaty over the issue. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Bush administration has worked hard to try to allay Russian concerns about the missile defense plan, but Moscow continues to object and is now threatening to suspend its role in the 1990 treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe.

The United States is negotiating with Poland and the Czech Republic on a plan that would place 10 U.S. missile interceptors in Poland and a related radar system on Czech territory.

The Bush administration says the antimissile system, to be operational in about five years, is aimed against single missiles or small salvoes of rockets that might be fired at Europe and the United States by Iran or some other rogue state.

Russia contends the system could counter its strategic missile force and fuel a new arms race.

U.S. officials say the limited defense system could in no way affect Russia's deterrent capability. Speaking at a NATO meeting in Oslo, Secretary Rice appeared exasperated over the Russian position.

"Let's be real about this," she said. "The idea that somehow 10 interceptors and a few radars in eastern Europe are going to threaten the Soviet [Russian] strategic deterrent is purely ludicrous and everybody knows it. The Russians have thousands of warheads. The idea that you can somehow stop the Russian strategic nuclear deterrent with a few missile interceptors just doesn't make sense."

Rice said the Bush administration is willing to spend as much time as needed to, as she put it, "demystify" the plan for Russian authorities. But she said this has to be done on a realistic basis, not one that is grounded in the 1980s.

In Moscow, Russian President Valdimir Putin, in his final state of the nation address, accused the United States of seeking one-sided advantages in weaponry and expanding military bases near Russia's borders.

Mr. Putin said it would be "appropriate" under the circumstances to declare a moratorium on Russian adherence to the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, or CFE.

That agreement, reached between NATO and the former Warsaw Pact at the end of the Cold War and amended in 1992, set strict limits on tanks, artillery and other weapons in central Europe.

The United States and NATO allies observe the limits through they have refused to formally ratify it until Russia removes remaining troops from Georgia and Moldova.

In a talk with reporters here, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said no formal notice of Russian withdrawal from the CFE has been received and he stressed the U.S. view that that treaty has continued value for European stability:

"These are agreements that have been reached broadly, internationally. The treaty, I think, is something that's beneficial for all parties involved. Certainly we want to see everyone honor their obligations under it. Certainly, we feel the United States has met our obligations under that," he said.

Rice had a private talk on the sidelines of the NATO meeting in Oslo with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was there to take part in a regular session of the NATO-Russia Council.

The Bush administration sent Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Moscow earlier this week to discuss the missile defense dispute and related issues.

Gates offered Russia information-sharing on missile defense including combining the two countries' defensive radar systems, though his new Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, said Russia still considers the U.S. plan destabilizing.