(www.latwp.com) вЂ" Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov criticized U.S. moves to deploy parts of its missile defense system in Eastern Europe, saying the plan to base interceptor rockets and radars in Poland and the Czech Republic appeared to be aimed at shooting down Russian weapons.
Ivanov was in Spain for the regular meeting between NATO's defense ministers and their Russian counterpart, and his remarks came just hours after his first face-to-face meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, in which the two discussed the U.S. missile defense plans, reports Trend.
At a news conference following the meeting, the Russian minister said observers need only to ``look at the school globe'' to counter U.S. arguments that the Europe-based system was needed to destroy North Korean missiles, adding American claims that Iran posed a threat to Europe were equally specious.
``Again, take a look at the map and calculate what territories can be reached by Iranian missiles,'' Ivanov said, contending that Tehran's current capabilities cannot reach beyond the Middle East and central Asia. ``In order to achieve the goal (of reaching Europe), there is a need to have an absolutely different defense industry in (Iran).''
The U.S. announced last month that it had opened negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic as part of the Pentagon's expanding missile defense system -- currently operated in a limited form with radars and interceptors in California and Alaska -- to base similar technologies in their countries. The U.S. is seeking to put interceptor missiles in Poland and anti-missile radars in the Czech Republic.
Ivanov has raised similar objections in recent weeks, but U.S. officials insisted he also had acknowledged there was little threat posed by the system to Russian missiles. Asked whether he understood Russian objections, Gates replied: ``Not really.''
``We've made quite clear to them that it's not directed at them,'' Gates told reporters traveling with him on his two-stop European swing.
A senior Pentagon official traveling with Gates said Ivanov raised the issue in his private meeting with Gates, but the objection was made perfunctorily as the U.S. is well aware of Russian objections. ``I must say, the tone could not have been more civil,'' the official said of the bilateral meeting. ``Missile defense is an issue we agree to disagree on. We said: Look, we'll keep talking about it.''
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity when discussing private bilateral meetings, said Ivanov did not mention the question of Iran's capabilities, but that the Pentagon disagreed with Ivanov's assessment.
``It's not an issue of what's (Iranian missile range) today; it's what they're developing,'' the official said. ``The Iranians keep expanding the range of their missiles. It's a matter of time.''
At his news conference, Ivanov said Moscow would respond to U.S. intentions to deploy the system in Europe by developing ways to counter it. But he added any countermeasures would be simple, inexpensive systems, believed to include technologies such as decoy missiles.
``This will not harm the Russian deterrence,'' he said. ``We will not be back in an arms race.''