MOSCOW -- U.S. missile defense plans are a threat to Russian national security and have slowed down progress on a new arms control treaty with Washington, Russia's top military officer said Tuesday.
Gen. Nikolai Makarov said that a revised U.S. plan to place missiles in Europe undermines Russia's national defense, rejecting Obama administration promises that the plan is not directed at his country.
"We view it very negatively, because it could weaken our missile forces," Makarov, the chief of the Russian military's General Staff, said in televised remarks.
Makarov's comments are the strongest yet on the revamped U.S. missile effort and signal potential new obstacles to an agreement on a new nuclear arms reduction treaty to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that expired Dec. 5.
The U.S. has insisted that the missile defense plans should be separate from talks to forge a new agreement on cutting the two nations' nuclear arsenals. Moscow and Washington hoped that they would sign a new treaty by the end of December, but talks have dragged on.
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Tuesday that U.S. missile defense moves in Europe are a reaction to Iran's missile threat and "are in no way directed at Russia." He said U.S. officials have been open about missile defense plans and have talked with Russian officials generally about the issue.
President Barack Obama's decision to scrap Bush administration plans for missile defense sites designed to shoot down long-range missiles from rogue states such as Iran drew praise from the Kremlin, which had fiercely opposed the earlier plan as a threat.
Experts have said the new plan is less threatening to Russia because it would not initially involve interceptors capable of shooting down Russia's intercontinental ballistic missiles.
In December, Moscow urged Washington to share detailed data about the reconfigured sea- and land-based systems to replace the old plans.
Russian officials at first reacted calmly to U.S. plans to deploy Patriot missile systems in Poland, but have grown increasingly critical in recent weeks.
Romania last week approved a proposal to place anti-ballistic missile interceptors in the country as part of the revamped American missile shield.
Asked Tuesday about the plans in Romania and Poland, Makarov called the U.S. missile defense plans a threat.
"The development of missile defense is aimed against the Russian Federation," he said.
Romania's Foreign Ministry maintained in a document that the proposed system is "strictly defensive ... it just defends against any attack."
No radar would be placed in the country for the missile-defense system and no interceptors would be put on ships in the Black Sea, the ministry said. The ministry also said that Russia could participate in the system if it chose to do so.
The ministry said the shield would include four phases. First, radar and Standard Missile-3 ballistic missiles would be placed on ships in southeastern Europe, along with a radar base, by 2011.
The second phase, by 2015, would include placing ground interceptors and a new radar base in southeastern Europe. The third phase would cover the whole of Europe by placing ground interceptors in northern Europe and developing new SM-3s to be placed on the ground and on ships, by 2018.
In the fourth phase, by 2020, the system would include protection against intercontinental ballistic missiles, the ministry said.