US warns Russia in line of fire of 'Iranian missile threat'

Thursday April 19, 2007

US officials on Wednesday warned Moscow that it was in the line of fire of "the missile threat from Iran" and urged it to cooperate with plans to base a US missile defence system on Russia's doorstep.

"We believe Russia has an interest in cooperating with us and NATO because the missile threat from Iran comes to Russia first," US Under-Secretary of Defence for Policy, Eric Edelman, told reporters in Warsaw.

He was speaking on the eve of a meeting in Brussels on the missile shield between the Russians, United States and NATO members.

Russia was riled when Washington announced in January that it wants to install 10 Interceptor missiles in Poland and a powerful radar in the Czech Republic, as it extends the cloak of missile defence already in place in the United States to its European allies.

Washington maintains that the system is aimed at protecting the United States and parts of Europe from long-range missile attacks from the Middle East, and Iran in particular.

But Russia is nervous about the idea that its old Cold War foe would set this up on its doorstep, and has accused Washington of targeting it with the facility.

"Russia comes within range first, the flight paths of these missiles traverse Russia first, before they fly over central Europe," Edelman said after he and Lieutenant-General Henry A. Obering, head of the Pentagon's Missile Defence Agency, met with Polish officials on the defence system.

Edelman dismissed Moscow's claims that the missiles were a threat to Russia.

"How 10 Interceptors which don't have explosive warheads -- they're purely kinetic vehicles that destroy the incoming missile by virtue of the high speed of the intercept -- could possibly threaten Russia's nuclear deterrent, which is made up of hundreds of missiles and thousands of warheads, is a little hard to see," he said.

Obering said Washington has been wholly transparent in its dealings with its allies and Russia on the missile shield, even inviting them to visit sites already installed in Alaska and California.

"We have invited many of our allies to visit missile defence sites in the United States. We have also invited the Russians to visit those sites. We have nothing to hide," he said.

But he stressed that Poland would be responsible for choosing who would be invited to visit any site set up on its soil.

"This is not US territory. Poland would be responsible for inviting in anyone to visit a facility set up in Poland," he said.

Edelman and Obering traveled Wednesday evening to Brussels for the meeting with NATO members and Russia on the missile shield.

Developing the defense shield must begin in the short-term, said Obering, to avoid "finding ourselves in a situation where we begin to see a threat and can't do anything about it because we have no system to turn on."

If formal negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic are begun this year, installation of the system could begin "in the latter part of 2008", and the facility could be operational by 2013, the US general said.



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