MOSCOW – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged the United States on Saturday to halt moves to deploy missile defense facilities in Europe pending negotiations on the issue, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.
Lavrov's remark suggested Moscow is unhappy that the United States has continued discussions on its plans to deploy facilities in Poland and the Czech Republic following Russia's counteroffer of joint use of a radar station in Azerbaijan.
"It's necessary to freeze the deployment of a missile defense system in Europe for a period of study and analysis, as well as negotiations on this issue," ITAR-Tass quoted Lavrov as saying. "We suggest that the U.S. jointly and professionally evaluate [the issue] ... and reach a general understanding."
Lavrov also warned that the U.S. missile defense plans could hamper efforts to ease international concerns about Iran's nuclear program, RIA-Novotsi reported. He suggested that Washington's stated intention of protecting against a potential Iranian threat would anger Tehran by indicating that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons — an assertion he said has not been proven.
Lavrov spoke two days after President Vladimir Putin, who has led Russia's bitter objection to U.S. plans to deploy a missile-defense radar in the Czech Republic and interceptors in Poland, surprised U.S. President George W. Bush with the offer of joint use of a radar station in Azerbaijan, which borders Iran.
Meeting with Putin during a Group of Eight summit in Germany on Thursday, Bush agreed to consider the proposal. But on Friday he pressed his plan for the system in a meeting with his Polish counterpart, Lech Kaczynski, and again shrugged off Moscow's assertions that it would threaten Russia by tipping the strategic balance.