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NATO Missile Shield Aimed at Neutralizing Russian Strategic Deterrent: Official

A senior Russian diplomat insisted in a radio interview that the planned NATO missile defense system in Europe is partly aimed at neutralizing the threat posed by his nation's long-range nuclear weapons, Interfax reported on Thursday (see GSN, Jan. 26).

The Western military alliance is implementing plans to augment and link up individual members' antimissile capabilities. A U.S. plan to through 2020 deploy increasingly advanced missile interceptors around Europe forms the basis of the NATO effort. The alliance has repeatedly stated the missile shield is focused on countering a potential ballistic missile attack from the Middle East, specifically Iran, and would not be a threat to Russia's nuclear deterrent.

"Iran will not have any missiles anytime soon that will be able to deliver a warhead ... to a distance that means such a defense system needs to be created," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said to Ekho Moskvy radio.

The Obama administration's "phased adaptive approach" for European missile defense includes plans to over the 2018-2020 time period deploy interceptors capable of eliminating medium- and intermediate-range missiles as well as potential ICBM threats.

"There are two explanations why they are doing this," Ryabkov insisted. "The first is they want to nullify the potential of the strategic nuclear forces of the Russian Federation."

Secondly, "the Americans have a very technological way of thinking: if there is a technology that has been tested out and is effective, it must definitely [be] put to the service of the country," the deputy minister said.

He said Washington's  has refused to examine the situation from the Russian point of view even though "we have been explaining it tirelessly" (Interfax, Jan. 26).

Russia, NATO and the United States have for some time engaged in discussions on the possibility of antimissile cooperation. An agreement has so far proved untenable, largely due to Washington's refusal to grant Moscow a binding guarantee that U.S. interceptors in Europe would never be aimed at Russian strategic missiles. While there were earlier hopes of reaching a deal in time for a planned NATO-Russia summit this May in Chicago, that outcome looks increasingly improbable.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Thursday said the planned summit with Russia would likely be called off if a deal cannot be reached beforehand.

The Russian Foreign Ministry responded that it has not been finally decided whether to hold the summit, Interfax reported.

The last such gathering of heads of state from NATO nations and Russia was in late 2010 in Lisbon, Portugal. That summit saw both sides agree to launch talks on a collaborative missile shield project.

"No decision has been made yet by the NATO-Russia Council about the NRC summit," spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters.  

He said a decision would be made when the next Russian government comes to power after voters elect a new president in March. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is widely expected to retake the position he held for two terms.

"The prospect for convening a NRC summit will largely depend on whether a decision will be reached to move towards real cooperation in this sphere on the basis of the principles set out in the documents of the [2010] NRC Lisbon summit, regarding the creation of a common space of equal security," Lukashevich said.

NATO and Russia have differing visions about what a joint antimissile system should look like. The alliance wants to see two separate but connected systems established that would exchange data on missile threats while Moscow favors building a single system that could give it an effective "red button" over decisions to launch missile interceptors (Interfax II, Jan. 26).

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