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EU Voices 'Strong Concern' Over Russian Missiles

An Iskander missile system
PARIS (Reuters) -- The French presidency of the European Union has expressed "strong concern" over a Russian plan to station new missiles near Poland's border.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced on November 5 that Moscow would deploy missiles in its western outpost of Kaliningrad in response to U.S. plans to station an antimissile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

"The presidency of the European Union Council expresses its strong concern after the announcement by President Medvedev...of the deployment of a complex of Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad," the presidency said in a statement.

"This announcement does not contribute to the establishment of a climate of trust and to the improvement of security in Europe, at a time when we wish for a dialogue with Russia on questions of security in the whole of the continent," it said.

The Bush administration says its missile shield aims to protect its European allies against possible attack by "rogue states," particularly Iran, and by terrorist groups. Moscow views the system as a direct threat to its national security.

The dispute comes ahead of a November 14 summit between Russia and the 27-member EU in the French city of Nice. The EU froze talks on a new partnership pact with Moscow after Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war in August.

Poles Claim Vindication

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Medvedev's move vindicated Warsaw's plan to station U.S. Patriot missiles on its soil, a deployment it persuaded Washington to make in return for its agreement to host part of the shield system.

Medvedev's plan "just shows that our decision to protect our air space with U.S. help is a correct one," Sikorski told the Polish parliament.

Under proposed confidence-building measures, Sikorski said Russia could send inspectors to bases in Poland on condition that Moscow also allows Polish inspectors into Russian bases.

Both the U.S. and Polish legislatures have still to ratify the accord on the missile-defense shield.

Sikorski said Poland and the United States were pressing on with negotiations on the logistical aspects of the deal without waiting for President-elect Barack Obama to take office.

Earlier this week, Sikorski said Obama had told him two months ago that he had concerns over the missile-defense shield's effectiveness and whether it was not directed against Russia. But Sikorski said he expected Obama to push ahead with the system once he had secured reassurances over its aims.

Russia's Interfax news agency quoted a Moscow Foreign Ministry source as saying Russia would study Washington's proposals on the missile shield and on how to find a replacement for a key nuclear arms-reduction treaty.

Russia wants to find a replacement for the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which set ceilings on the size of Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals but expires in December 2008.

"We have received these proposals and we will study them," Interfax quoted the unidentified source as saying.