Tallinn (AFP) Nov 13, 2008
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday blasted Russia's threat to point missiles at western Europe as he met NATO counterparts to discuss Ukraine's membership prospects.
Gates said that a threat by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, within hours of the US election triumph of Barack Obama, to place missiles near the border with Poland was "hardly the welcome a new American administration deserves."
"Such provocative remarks are unnecessary and misguided," he told reporters after the meeting in Estonia.
Just a day after Obama's win, Medvedev threatened to shift missiles to Kaliningrad, a Baltic Sea enclave sandwiched between ex-communist NATO and European Union members Poland and Lithuania, and already home to a large Russian base.
Medvedev said the move would "neutralise" a planned missile defence system to be deployed by 2013-14 in Poland and the Czech Republic, also a NATO member that was once part of the Soviet bloc.
Although the United States insists its missile shield is to protect against what it calls "rogue states" such as Iran, Russia says it is a security threat.
The US missile shield plan has NATO-wide backing, but NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that while Medvedev's comments had been "unsolicited, unnecessary and unhelpful," the Russian president had "nuanced his remarks a bit and that is, as such, positive news, I think."
In an interview published by French daily Le Figaro on Thursday, Medvedev said Russia could shelve its Kaliningrad move if the US missile shield plan was dropped.
"We are ready to negotiate a zero option," Medvedev was quoted as saying.
"We are ready to abandon the decision to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad if the new US administration, after analysing the real use of a system to respond to 'rogue states,' decides to abandon its missile system," he said.
Questioned about Medvedev's remarks, Gates responded: "I don't think it's a credible offer."
Reacting to Medvedev's reported remark that "we didn't start this," Gates said: "Quite frankly, I'm not clear what the missiles would be for in Kaliningrad.
"After all the only real emerging threat on Russia's periphery is in Iran."
In a Kremlin transcript of the Le Figaro interview, Medvedev said he saw room for negotiation with the new US administration, after President George W. Bush leaves office in January.
Russia has opposed efforts by Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO. There is now a political impasse made more complicated by the five day Russia-Georgia war in August.
But Gates made a point of attending the NATO meeting in Tallinn to signal US support for Kiev and Tbilisi's aspirations, officials from his team said.
But "it is clear there are different points of view," a senior US official told reporters, referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's opposition.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that there were reasons to be concerned about Ukraine's readiness for membership.
They included a lack of public support, internal political crises and Ukraine's slow progress in making its military more professional and able to integrate with NATO.
However, "we need to be very clear that Russia has not succeeded in drawing a line across Europe with its invasion of Georgia," he said.
No decisions were to be taken in Estonia, but NATO foreign ministers will discuss the pair's bids again next month in Brussels.
As for Georgia's hopes, Russia's NATO ambassador said the EU dealt better with the Georgia crisis than the transatlantic alliance, in an interview published Thursday in German daily Die Welt.
Dmitry Rogozin hailed a decision by EU foreign ministers to relaunch frozen talks on a new strategic pact with Russia, "as a belated recognition that Russia was in the right in Georgia."
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BMD Watch: Russia may talk to Obama on BMD
Washington (UPI) Nov 13, 2008
Russian leaders are moving quickly to offer an olive branch to the incoming Obama administration in the hope that it will agree to scrap the planned ballistic missile defense base in Poland meant to protect the United States and Western Europe against the future threat of nuclear-armed Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles.
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