(dpa) - Russian threats to target the planned US missile-defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic amount to "empty rhetoric," US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said.
"It strikes me as pretty strident rhetoric ... probably very empty rhetoric," Gates said Sunday on ABC News television.
" Russia is not going to launch nuclear missiles at anybody," he added.
The United States and Poland initialled an agreement on Thursday that would allow the stationing of 10 interceptor missiles on Polish soil, after sealing a deal with the Czech Republic in July to host the system's radar.
The deployment, planned to be in place by 2013, is designed to counter the threat posed by Iran's growing ballistic missile capability, but Moscow views it as a threat to its strategic nuclear deterrent and has threatened to target both sites.
A Russian general on Friday repeated the threats as tension between Moscow and the West was peaking over the conflict in Georgia.
General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy chief of Russia's general staff, said Russia's nuclear war doctrine calls for the targeting of anti-missile-defence systems.
"By putting up interceptors, Poland is placing itself at risk. In terms of priority, such targets are the first to be destroyed," he said.
The United States maintains the system is far too small to disrupt an attack by Russia's hundreds of nuclear ballistic missiles and thousand of warheads.
The dispute has brought US-Russian relations to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War, relations that worsened during the past week after Moscow launched a massive military assault in Georgia over the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Russia carried out an assault deep into Georgian territory after the Georgian government ordered troops into South Ossetia in response to attacks by Russian-backed separatists.
The conflict in the former Soviet republic marked the worst crisis in Western-Russian relations in the post Cold-War era.
President George W Bush has demanded that Russia end military operations against the pro-Western Georgian government, accusing Moscow of "bullying and intimidating" former Soviet states seeking close relations with Western institutions.
"This is in some ways a real throwback to the pre-1991 days - to the old Soviet Union," Gates said, adding the United States would review the status of its relationship with Russia.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon cancelled participation in two naval exercises with Russia.
"We are obviously going to have to re-evaluate the direction of the strategic relationship with Russia," Gates said.
"We clearly have seen a side of Russia that we had hoped was a thing of the past," Gates said.
"We are obviously going to have to re-evaluate the direction of the strategic relationship with Russia," he said.