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Lavrov: Russia opposes missile defense in Poland

Thursday, September 11, 2008

WARSAW, Poland —  Russia's foreign minister struck an unusually conciliatory tone during talks in Warsaw on Thursday, but firmly reiterated Moscow's opposition to U.S. plans to place a missile defense base on Polish soil.

The talks between Sergey Lavrov, his Polish counterpart Radek Sikorski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk came less than a month after Warsaw and Washington signed a deal to place 10 interceptor missiles in northern Poland, just 115 miles (180 kilometers) from Russia's westernmost fringe, by 2012.

"We don't see any threat from Poland," Lavrov told reporters after meeting with Sikorski. "But we see a threat to Russian's security as a result of the American strategic system drawing closer to our borders."

Lavrov sought to stress that "other than (countering) Russia's strategic arsenal, the system for a long time will not have a goal."

The United States and Poland say the installation is meant to protect Europe and the United States from future attacks from Iran. However, it has drawn the wrath of Moscow, which has threatened attacks on Poland and the Czech Republic, which is to host a radar linked to the base.

Sikorski, meanwhile, tried to ease Moscow's concerns over the system.

"Poland will build confidence and will proceed in a predictable and transparent way," he said. "We hope that Russia's fears concerning the deal will fade with time."

Lavrov brushed aside a question about an earlier comment from Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy chief of staff of Russia's armed forces, who said that by deploying the missile defense system Poland "is exposing itself to a strike _ 100 percent."

"The Russian general staff is not bothered by Poland," Lavrov said. "It's bothered by the U.S. strategic system."

In an opinion piece published Thursday in the Gazeta Wyborcza daily, Lavrov suggested that Poland had naively been drawn into a dangerous game "perhaps not fully understanding the ramifications of its decision."

In the wake of Russia's five-day war with Georgia, Lavrov warned against awarding Georgia NATO membership, something Poland has also pushed for.

"It is harmful to artificially drag any country into NATO," Lavrov said. "All problems can be resolved without mechanically expanding the bloc, without bringing infrastructure closer to Russia's borders."

War broke out after Georgian forces launched an offensive Aug. 7 to retake breakaway South Ossetia. Russian forces then routed Georgia's military and drove deep into Georgia.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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