(RFE/RL) -- The United States is denying that talks to replace the expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) have stalled over Russian objections to plans for a U.S. antimissile shield for Europe.
The denial follows an assertion by Russia's military chief of staff that the treaty talks have stalled over Washington's new plans to protect Europe from missile strikes from countries like Iran.
At the White House, spokesman Robert Gibbs said such an assessment is wrong. "I think the notion that somehow this is, in any way, an impediment to what is going on with START is simply not true," he said. "It certainly wasn't what [Russian] President [Dmitry] Medvedev told [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama."
Gibbs said that Washington's plans for a missile-defense system for Europe were known for months, but until now provoked no specific objections from Moscow.
"When President Obama talked to President Medvedev a couple of weeks ago, President Medvedev didn't bring this up as an obstacle," Gibbs said.
"Our change in architecture for a missile plan that protected Europe and protected this homeland in a better way was announced last September, yet we have had substantive negotiations going on for many months."
The 1991 START treaty expired on December 5, and the Obama administration has been hoping to wrap up without delay a new treaty making further cuts in the two countries' strategic nuclear arsenals.
The United States has sought to keep separate the START replacement talks and the proposed missile shield for Europe, which is defensive and does not involve any strategic nuclear arms.
But General Nikolai Makarov, chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, on February 9 squarely tied the two issues together. He said Moscow viewed the plans for Europe "very negatively" because they could interfere with Russia's missile forces.
And he said he didn't believe the European system was aimed only against potential missiles from rogue states like Iran and North Korea.
"The [Russian nuclear] doctrine concludes that the development and establishment of the missile shield is directed against the Russian Federation, never mind all the statements of all the participating governments that we need it for our security -- this is far from being the case," Makarov said.
At the State Department, spokesman P.J. Crowley repeated U.S. assurances that the missile shield was a reaction to the threat of possible attack by Iran, and was "in no way directed at Russia."
Crowley said the United States had been open about the missile plans, and had talked them over generally with Russian officials.
The original plans for an missile-defense system in Europe were drawn up under the previous Bush administration, and called for a radar system in the Czech Republic and missiles based in Poland capable of intercepting incoming intercontinental missiles.
That scheme was scrapped by Obama amid fierce criticism from Moscow. The new plan, calling for sea- and land-based missiles, is considered less threatening to Russia because it would not initially involve interceptors capable of shooting down Russia's intercontinental missiles.
Russian officials at first reacted calmly to U.S. plans to deploy short-range Patriot missile systems in Poland, but have grown increasingly critical in recent weeks. And Romania last week approved a proposal to place missile interceptors on its soil as part of the new U.S. plans.
compiled from agency reports