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Lavrov Skeptical About U.S. Transparency On Missile Defense

Lavrov said only a complete overhaul of missile-defense plans would satisfy Russia
LIMA (Reuters) -- Any efforts by the United States to be transparent about plans to deploy pieces of its missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe would not entirely placate Russia, the country's foreign minister said on November 23.

Russia has interpreted U.S. plans, which would include deploying a radar system in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland to repel possible attacks from Iran, as a direct threat to its security.

The dispute over the U.S. missile shield has become one of the key factors behind a chill in relations between Moscow and Washington of post-Cold War levels.

"It would be better if the Americans gave up the idea," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in the Peruvian capital Lima, where President Dmitry Medvedev was attending a summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, or APEC.

"If, despite everything, the United States carries out its plans, it will need to provide transparency measures to reduce Russian concerns," he added. "But our concerns would be fully removed only if Washington gives up its plan and starts working on a joint missile-defense system from scratch."

At times, the two countries have considered building a joint system, and the United States has suggested "transparency" measures to build mutual trust.

But earlier this month, Medvedev announced that Russia will deploy its own missiles in the westernmost enclave of Kaliningrad, bordering NATO members Poland and Lithuania.

Medvedev also said the Russian military will electronically suppress U.S. radar signals.

However, Russian leaders have said they did not want the missile shield disagreement to become a trigger for a long-term deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations or, even worse, of a new Cold War accompanied by an arms race.

Medvedev, who pins hopes for improving bilateral relations on U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, said in Washington last week that Russia will not be the first to deploy its missiles.

Russian officials have said they hoped Obama would be less interested in forging the missile shield plans, especially in the middle of a global economic crisis.

"While the position of the current [Bush] administration on the issue is extremely inflexible, the position of the U.S president-elect is more accurate," Medvedev told reporters on November 23 in Lima.

Medvedev's chief foreign policy advisor, Sergei Prikhodko, said Medvedev and outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush did not discuss missile defense at their last meeting in Lima on November 22.

Lavrov has said he and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have agreed to hold another round of talks on the thorny issue in late December.

Russian officials say they have not been impressed by U.S. proposals aimed at easing Russia's opposition to the project.