MINSK (Reuters) -- Ex-Soviet Belarus denied on November 17 that it sought to deploy Russian missiles as a measure to counter a proposed U.S. antimissile system in Eastern Europe.
A Foreign Ministry statement said an interview with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka last week in "The Wall Street Journal" had created a "completely incorrect interpretation" of his statements. "The Wall Street Journal" stood by its story.
Lukashenka was quoted by the newspaper as saying that Russia had suggested deploying Iskander missiles in his country and that even if Moscow failed to proceed with the proposal, Belarus would consider buying them for its own use.
The president was quoted as supporting Russia's proposal to deploy the missiles in its Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad.
"Even if Russia does not offer these promising missiles, we will purchase them ourselves," the paper quoted him as saying.
"Right now we do not have the funds, but it is part of our plans -- I am giving away a secret here -- to have such weapons."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Popov, in a statement on the presidential website, said "distortion" of Lukashenka's comments had led to incorrect assessments of Belarus's policy.
"May I stress that the Belarusian president made no statements about our country's intention to deploy Russian Iskander missiles in Belarus as a measure in response to the U.S. deployment of anti-missile systems in Europe," Popov said.
"Strictly at issue here, within the context of a general rearming of the Belarusian military, is the gradual replacement of obsolete missiles with more modern weaponry, including, possibly, Iskander missiles."
The site provided what it said was a transcript of the interview, which included no mention of any suggestion that Russia had proposed deploying the missiles in Belarus.
"The Wall Street Journal," in a statement, said it noted Lukashenka's "support for Russian plans to target any U.S. missile system in Europe with Iskander missiles.
"It further notes that Mr. Lukashenka was considering deploying Iskander missiles. It did not seek to link the two issues in any way."
Belarus gave up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons in the 1990s after the collapse of Soviet rule and has suggested it is prepared to deploy Russian nonnuclear weaponry if the Kremlin requested it. But no mention has been made of Iskander missiles.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, interviewed by the Paris daily "Le Figaro" last week, said Moscow was ready to drop plans to deploy the missiles in Kaliningrad if Washington abandoned its proposed missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The U.S. State Department said the missile defence system posed no threat to anyone, but sought to counter "rogue missile threats from the Middle East, particularly from Iran."
Lukashenka has been accused by Western countries of crushing fundamental human rights since the mid-1990s, but has sought improved relations with the West for more than a year.