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Russia unmoved by US missile defense plan change

Sending missiles to Alaska does not mollify critics in Russian government

Posted: March 19, 2013 - 12:01am

MOSCOW — A top Russian diplomat says the United States’ cancellation of a critical part of its European missile defense system plan doesn’t mollify Moscow’s opposition.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week announced that plans to place long-range missile interceptors in Poland in the final stage of its European system are being abandoned.

U.S. officials, however, stress that plans are on track to deploy shorter-range missiles to Poland and Romania within the next five years. The long-range interceptors were to have been the final phase of a program that Russia contends aims to counter its own missiles. Washington says the system is meant to stop missiles from Iran and North Korea.

As part of the modification to its plans, Washington plans to put interceptors in Alaska to counter the growing threat from North Korea.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by the Kommersant newspaper Monday as saying: “We feel no euphoria in connection with what was announced by the U.S. defense secretary, and we see no grounds for correcting our position.”

Hagel’s announcement made no reference to Russia’s objections to the plan.

Ryabkov was not quoted as commenting directly on arms control issues, but his remarks indicated Moscow was not appeased.

“This is not a concession to Russia and we do not see it as such,” he said. “We will continue a dialogue and seek the signing of legally binding agreements that all elements of the U.S. missile-defense system are not aimed at Russian strategic nuclear forces.”

The United States resists such an agreement, which would almost certainly fail to get the necessary Congressional approval.

Missile defense has been a contentious issue since President George W. Bush sought to base long-range interceptors in Central Europe to stop Iranian missiles from reaching the U.S. Russia believed the program was aimed at countering its own missiles and undermining its nuclear deterrent.

Bush’s successor, President Barack Obama, reworked the plan soon after taking office in 2009. He canceled an earlier interceptor planned for Poland and radar in the Czech Republic, replacing the high-speed interceptors with slower ones that could stop Iran’s medium-range missiles.

Under Obama’s plan, the interceptors were to be upgraded gradually over four phases, culminating early next decade with those intended to protect both Europe and the United States.

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