MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s top general said on Tuesday that differences over U.S. missile defense plans were directed against his country and were holding up an arms treaty with Washington, Russian news agencies reported.
The White House denied missile defense was an obstacle and said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had not raised the program when he and U.S. President Barack Obama last discussed the treaty.
But the renewed blast from Moscow raised questions about the chances of an early agreement on a successor to the Cold War-era START nuclear arms reduction pact that expired in December.
Interfax news agency quoted Russian armed forces chief of staff Nikolai Makarov as saying: “The development and establishment of the (U.S.) missile shield is directed against the Russian Federation.”
Washington has insisted its planned limited missile defense is meant to intercept a small number of warheads that might be fired by a “rogue state,” such as Iran or North Korea.
“I think the notion that somehow this is in any way an impediment to what’s going on with START is -- is simply -- it’s simply not true,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said at a news briefing. “It certainly wasn’t what President Medvedev told President Obama.”
Obama pleased Russia by scrapping the previous U.S. administration’s plans to deploy elements of a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic that Moscow bitterly opposed.
But Makarov said Russia still had serious concerns about Obama’s revised plans, which are based on sea- and land-based missile interceptors in Europe, despite U.S. insistence that they are no threat to Russia.
“Despite the declarations of those statesmen who say that, on the contrary, it provides for our security, that’s far from the case,” state-run RIA news agency quoted Makarov as saying.
“For this reason it’s completely understandable that we have a very negative attitude about this issue,” he added.
‘A PARTNER AND FRIEND’
A U.S. defense official in Washington, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said: “Those missile defense initiatives are not and never have been designed around Russian capabilities. We consider Russia a partner and friend in promoting stability and security in the region.”
Russian and U.S. officials have said they are close to agreeing on a successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty -- part of efforts to improve relations that sank to a post-Cold War low after Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008.
“Whenever you get down to this point in a treaty, you’re taking conceptual agreements and putting them into words,” Gibbs said. “And there are going to be some fights over -- over different words and that’s what they’re working through.
“But I can assure you, it’s not -- it’s not our different approach to -- to missiles.”
Russia says it fears the U.S. missile plan would alter the balance of power between the Cold War foes and has expressed reservations about agreeing to cut offensive weapons without limiting missile defenses.
Washington has acknowledged a link between offensive and defensive nuclear arsenals but has said the new treaty will not limit missile defense, which would severely jeopardize chances of the U.S. Senate ratifying it.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had also said in December that U.S. missile defense plans were the deal’s main obstacle.
Makarov met his U.S. counterpart last month for what both sides said were productive talks on the treaty, and negotiations have continued in Geneva.
Additional reporting by Phil Stewart and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Paul Taylor and Bill Trott
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