The Bush administration reiterated Thursday that the missile defense system it plans to build in central Europe is not directed against Russia. The comments follow a reported warning that Moscow might withdraw from a Cold War-era arms reduction agreement if the U.S. plans go forward. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
Officials here say Russia has been consulted at various levels about the U.S. missile-defense plans and intentions, and they say they are puzzled by the repeated caustic comments about the envisaged system from Moscow.
The Bush administration announced last month it was opening formal negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic about basing elements of an anti-ballistic missile system in those countries.
That system, officials said, would be aimed at protecting Europe and the United States from single missile firings or small salvos of ballistic missiles from so-called rogue states, and could in no way neutralize or threaten Russia's large nuclear deterrent forces.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin, at both his February 1 Moscow news conference and policy speech in Munich the following week, denounced the U.S. plans and pledged to adopt a highly effective response.
Thursday, Russian news agencies quoted the chief of Russia's military general staff, General Yuri Baluyevsky, as saying Moscow might pull out of the 1987 accord limiting intermediate-range missiles in Europe if the anti-missile system is built.
In a talk with reporters, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said he did not know if the latest Russian warning had been formally conveyed to the United States, but he reiterated the anti-missile plan poses no threat to Moscow.
"The missile-defense plans and deployments are in no way aimed at Russia," he said. "They are instead designed to help protect the United States and its friends and allies from the possible launch of missiles from rogue states such as Iran."
"We have in fact offered to cooperate with Russia on missile defense issues. That offer of cooperation still stands. I know the Russians have had a reaction to this. I can't tell you exactly why, but it is not for a lack of [U.S.] explanation and assurances," he added.
Under the U.S. plan, a battery of about 10 interceptor missiles would be based in Poland and linked to a sophisticated anti-missile radar system in the neighboring Czech Republic.
U.S. defense officials say the deployment would most likely occur by 2012, when they believe Iran might attain a long-range missile strike capability.
Soon after President Bush took office in 2001, his administration stepped-up efforts to develop a limited anti-missile capability, elements of which are under construction in Alaska.
Domestic opponents of the multi-billion dollar program in Congress and elsewhere say it is destabilizing and unlikely to be operationally effective.