Iran deal removes need for U.S. missile shield, Russia says

WARSAW Thu Dec 19, 2013 10:18am EST

Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski (L) and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov meet at the Palace on Water in Royal Lazienki in Warsaw December 19, 2013. REUTERS/Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta

Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski (L) and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov meet at the Palace on Water in Royal Lazienki in Warsaw December 19, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Slawomir Kaminski/Agencja Gazeta

WARSAW (Reuters) - A successful deal to curb Iran's nuclear program would remove the need for the United States to build an anti-missile shield in Europe, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday.

Russia strongly opposes the missile defense system, saying it will upset the post-Cold War strategic balance and undermine its security. Washington says the shield is not directed against Russia, but is meant to counter potential threats from the Middle East.

"Implementation of the Geneva agreement on Iran will remove the cause for construction of a missile shield in Europe," Lavrov told a news conference on a visit to Poland, where interceptors for the missile shield are due to be deployed by 2018.

He was referring to an interim agreement reached in Geneva on November 24 by Iran and six global powers which are seeking to ensure it does not develop nuclear weapons. Under the deal, Tehran would suspend its most sensitive atomic work in exchange for a limited easing of sanctions that are damaging its oil-dependent economy.

Last week, Tehran broke off discussions with the six powers in anger at the U.S. blacklisting of more Iranian individuals and companies. Technical talks were due to resume in Geneva on Thursday about how to implement the deal, which all sides say they hope will lead to a permanent solution to the protracted dispute.

"Everything indicates that full implementation of international deal with Iran will take a year," Lavrov said.

He said the missile shield, which is due to be completed after 2020, posed a serious threat to global stability.

U.S. officials say Iranian missiles could pose a threat regardless of whether it develops nuclear weapons.

In a separate development on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said a possible response to the shield would be for Moscow to deploy Iskander missiles in its western enclave of Kaliningrad, which borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania.

But he said that, contrary to reports this week, Russia had not yet deployed the missiles, which have a range of about 400 km (250 miles) and can carry nuclear warheads.

(Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Writing by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Steve Gutterman and Mark Trevelyan)