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Gates Criticizes Latest Russian Missile Threats

  • Al Pessin

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has rejected an offer by Russia's president not to deploy offensive missiles near its borders with NATO allies if the United States will cancel plans for missile defense system partly based in Europe. But speaking after a NATO defense ministers meeting in Estonia, Gates also said he hopes for a more constructive relationship with Russia in the future. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Tallinn.

In an interview published in the French newspaper Le Figaro, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said he hopes to negotiate with the new U.S. administration for the cancellation of both missile plans. But Secretary Gates said the offer is not credible.

"Quite frankly, I am not sure what the missiles would be for in Kaliningrad. After all, the only real emerging threat on Russia's periphery is in Iran, and I do not think the Iskander missile has the range to get there from Kaliningrad. This is an issue, apparently, between ourselves and the Russians. Why they would threaten to point missiles at European nations seems quite puzzling to me," said Gates.

In the interview, Medvedev said he wants to establish a "frank and honest" relationship with president-elect Barak Obama and his administration, and hopes Mr. Obama will abandon the Bush Administration's missile defense plan. But Secretary Gates said Medvedev did not make a good start by threatening to put missiles in Russia's Kaliningrad region the day after Mr. Obama was elected.

"Within hours of the conclusion of the American election, Russian President Medvedev responded by threatening to place missiles in Kaliningrad, hardly the welcome a new American administration deserves. Such provocative remarks are unnecessary and misguided," he said.

Gates said the United States wants to include Russia in the integration of Europe, and it should not fear the missile defense system or moves by former Soviet republics to join the NATO alliance.

"We just hope that the evolution of politics and economics in Russia moves Russia toward resuming the movement toward integration with western institutions. We are going through a period when they have chosen to take a different kind of line. I would like to believe that it is transitory, and that we will resume a more productive and positive relationship going forward," said Gates.

Secretary Gates traveled to Tallinn to show support for the Baltic States, which are members of NATO but have new security concerns in the wake of Russia's invasion of Georgia in August. He also attended the NATO defense ministers meeting, where the focus was Ukraine's effort to join the alliance.

NATO foreign ministers may decide to begin the formal process next month, but some members are reluctant to further antagonize Russia. The United States supports moving quickly, but Gates said Russia should not see any further delay as a victory. He says Ukraine still has much work to do to reform its military and to convince its people of the benefits of NATO membership, but he said it is inevitable that Ukraine will someday join the alliance.

The United States has the same view on NATO membership for Georgia, but that was not a topic for this meeting.

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