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US Rejects Russian Offer to Scrap European Missiles

The Bush administration Thursday dismissed as not credible a Russian offer to forego deployment of missiles near Poland, if the United States drops its European missile defense plan. But U.S. officials said they still want dialogue with Moscow on a looming missile threat from Iran. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here said the Russian proposal to nullify missile deployments on both sides is not a serious approach to the issue, but they said they remain interested in talks with Moscow to ease Russian concerns about missile defense.

Russia has opposed, as a threat to its strategic deterrence, a U.S. plan for a central European missile defense system to counter an anticipated threat from Iran.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has threatened to respond by putting short-range missiles in Russia's Kaliningrad enclave bordering Poland, where U.S. interceptor missiles are to be based.

But President Medvedev has told the French newspaper Le Figaro in remarks published Thursday Moscow would forego the deployment if the U.S. defense plan is scrapped. Speaking after a NATO defense ministers meeting in Estonia, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Medvedev offer is not credible.

"Quite frankly, I am not sure what the missiles would be for in Kaliningrad," he said. 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.

Mr. Medvedev also told Le Figaro he wants a frank and honest relationship with the incoming Barack Obama administration, which he said he hopes will abandon the missile defense plan.

Secretary Gates, who reportedly could be asked to stay on in the next administration, said threatening to put missiles in Kaliningrad a day after the U.S. election is hardly the way to make a good start. He called the Medvedev remarks provocative and misguided.

The State Department, meanwhile, said the Bush administration still wants talks with Moscow on new U.S. proposals designed to allay Russian concerns about the missile defense system.

The revised package, which among other things would give Russian inspectors access to missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, has been dismissed by un-named Russian officials as inadequate.

But State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood said Thursday efforts are still underway to arrange a Moscow visit by the department's arms control chief, John Rood, to discuss the proposals:

"We believe it's in the best interests of the United States and its European allies. We think it's something Russia needs to take seriously, these future threats from the Middle East. We're very concerned about it and we think missile defense is the right approach. We want to cooperate with Russia, but we need a partner," he said.

President-elect Obama has expressed concern about the cost and technical viability of Bush administration missile defense efforts. But a senior diplomat who spoke here said the next administration could decide to pursue the program, and that the Bush administration in any case intends to press its agenda until the January 20 Obama inauguration.