Russia tells US to stop imagining Iran threat

RUSSIA yesterday bluntly told the United States it saw no threat from Iran’s ballistic missiles and was perplexed how Washington could use this to justify a planned US defence system in Europe.

“We do not see any kind of threat from Iran,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters after a meeting in Tehran of foreign ministers from Caspian Sea states.

“Thus, we do not understand why, in order to justify the installation of a US anti-ballistic missile system in Europe, you have to bring up the pretext of a genuine Iranian threat,” he added.

The United States plans to locate a powerful missile-tracking radar in the Czech Republic as well as interceptor missiles in Poland to combat what it says are threats to global security.

Russia vehemently opposes either location for the planned US system.

“On many occasions we have mentioned professional opinions, expertise and analyses about the absence of such a threat,” said Lavrov.

Two weeks ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed that the United States locate part of the system at the Russian-leased radar station at Gabala in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

“If, on the American side, there is a suspicion of such a threat, then Putin offered that such a suspicion could easily be removed through the information collected through the radar station at Gabala,” said Lavrov.

The US has said that it is examining Putin’s counter proposal for a joint Russian- US radar in Azerbaijan but US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has already made clear this would be no substitute for the Czech-based radar.

The US has expressed concerns about what it sees as Iran’s military ambitions in the region, especially after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Washington’s ally Israel to be “wiped off the map”.

Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has apparently said during talks with his Azeri counterpart Safar Abiyev that Russia is “ready for the joint use of the Gabala radar station either on a bilateral or trilateral basis”.

After the meeting, Abiyev said: “We confirmed Azerbaijan’s readiness for the joint use by Russia and the US of the radar station in Gabala and we signed the relevant protocol.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator will meet the head of the UN nuclear watchdog this week as part of a push for a new round of talks over Iran’s disputed nuclear programme, an Iranian nuclear official said Wednesday.

Ali Larijani will meet Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, tomorrow, according to the deputy head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation, Mohammad Saeedi. The IAEA declined to comment.

Iran abruptly cancelled talks with ElBaradei earlier this month, dashing hopes that Tehran was ready to end its secrecy about suspicious nuclear activities.

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