POTSDAM, Germany - Russia's
top diplomat accused the United States of launching a new arms race as the two
nations traded barbs Wednesday over U.S. plans to erect a missile defense system
in countries formerly under Moscow's influence.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov complained that the U.S. rationale for
the shield is thin and suggested that U.S. assurances to Russia amount to a
"All they are saying is, 'Don't worry it's not aimed at you," Lavrov said. He
called the plan a threat to Russia and added, "the arms race is starting again."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States has repeatedly
explained its plan to Russia in considerable detail, and stands ready to discuss
the matter further. She tartly noted that Russia has said its own strategic
defenses could easily overpower the U.S. system.
"We quite agree," she said.
Lavrov made a dark joke in response.
"I hope that nobody has to actually prove that Condi is right about that,"
On Tuesday, Russia tested a new multiple-warhead, intercontinental ballistic
missile, and Putin warned that the planned U.S. missile shield would turn Europe
into a "powder keg."
President Bush, Rice and Secretary of Defense Richard Gates have all tried to
reassure the Russians about the program, and U.S. officials suggest that Russia
is using the issue to score political points.
Speaking to reporters ahead of her trip to Europe, Rice poo-pooed Russian
"The idea that this somehow would degrade Russia's strategic nuclear
deterrent is just ludicrous, and the Russians know it's ludicrous," Rice said.
"There isn't any military person who can imagine this system with a few
interceptors and a few sensors and a few radars able to intercept the Russian
Lavrov took issue with that Wednesday.
"For us this is not ludicrous at all, and I hope our American partners will
respect our analysis which we have presented to them in a very professional and
detailed way," he said.
The Russian diplomat was also blunt in describing Russia's disagreement with
the West over the future status of Kosovo. The two sides are "diametrically
opposed," and he sees no prospect for resolving the dispute soon, Lavrov said.
He added that he hopes Russia will not have to use its veto power in the U.N.
Security Council over the issue.
The province has been under U.N. administration since NATO ended an ethnic
war between Serbia and the province's ethnic Albanians in 1999. The United
States and key European countries support Kosovo's independence, and Russia,
traditionally a Serbian ally, opposes it.
U.S. officials say the deployment of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a
radar system in the Czech Republic would protect Russia and the rest of Europe
from potential attack by Iran, North Korea or other nations.
The European sites are part of a larger shield that the Bush administration
envisions for Europe and North America. Besides opposition from Russia, the
program is hitting a roadblock at home.
The administration is facing the prospect of a sharp cut by the
Democratic-contolled Congress in its request for $310 million to begin
developing the system. Last week the Senate Armed Service Committee cut $85
million from the administration request.
The Kremlin says the system threatens the strategic balance of forces in
Europe by weakening Russia's ability to retaliate against an offensive strike.
Rice, Lavrov and other diplomats were gathered for a working session ahead of
next month's Group of Eight summit of leading industrial nations. That meeting
will be closely watched for signs of a rift between Bush and Russian President
The two presidents will also meet July 1 and 2 in Kennebunkport, Maine, the
White House said Wednesday. Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush,
has an oceanfront compound there.
Putin, once celebrated by fellow members of the elite international club, has
in recent years found himself quarreling with other members, especially the
United States, and has been openly disgruntled with the G-8's brand of global
Putin delivered a May 9 speech in Red Square that seemed to compare Bush's
foreign policy to that of the Third Reich, while in February he accused the U.S.
of "an almost uncontained hyper use of force that is plunging the world into an
abyss of permanent conflicts."
Bush, meanwhile, has talked of mutual suspicions between the two nations.