( Reuters ) - Russia hopes Washington will take seriously its objections to the U.S. missile shield plan, Russia's foreign minister said on Thursday before President Vladimir Putin's visit to the United States.
Kremlin officials say Putin will talk about the U.S. plans to base elements of its missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic when he arrives for talks with U.S. President George W. Bush on July 1.
"These rockets in eastern Europe are not necessary to counter the threat that the initiators of this project refer to," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on a visit to the Belarus capital, Minsk.
"We hope that our conclusions will be taken seriously. It is not easy to brush them aside."
Washington says the missile shield is needed to defend against attacks from what it calls "rogue states" such as Iran and North Korea. It says the project is not a threat to Russia.
But the Kremlin says the plan will upset the strategic balance and has voiced suspicions the missiles in eastern Europe will really be directed at Russia.
The dispute has caused sharp exchanges of rhetoric between Moscow and Washington. Russia has warned it will return to its Cold War stance of aiming its missile at targets in Europe if the United States goes ahead with the plan.
Putin has offered Washington joint use of a Russian-leased long-range radar station in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan as an alternative to the missile shield plan.
Kremlin officials say they eagerly await Bush's response to that offer when the two heads of state meet at the Bush family residence in Kennebunkport, Maine.