Iran poses no missile threat, Russia tells US
by Stuart Williams
TEHRAN (AFP) - Russia on Wednesday 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 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 United States 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.
Iran has an array of medium-range missiles and claims that its longer-range Shahab-3 missile has a reach of 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles), which would put US bases on the Arabian peninsula within reach.
The United States 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".
The Islamic republic insists it would never be the first to attack although it has warned it would hit back with force if the United States launched an military strike against Iran.
The United States is also at loggerheads with Iran over its contested nuclear programme and Tehran's alleged interference in Iraq. Washington has itself never ruled out military action against Iran.
Lavrov's comments came as the defence chiefs of Russia and Azerbaijan confirmed their countries' readiness to host part of a US missile defence system at the radar station in Azerbaijan, the Interfax news agency reported.
Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov 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," Russian defence ministry advisor Ilshat Baichurin was quoted as saying.
After the meeting, Abiyev said: "We confirmed Azerbaijan's readiness for the joint use by Russia and the United States of the radar station in Gabala and we signed the relevant protocol."
Meanwhile, Armenia voiced concern that Putin's proposal to host part of the US missile defense system in neighbouring Azerbaijan could destabilize the volatile Caucasus region wedged between Russia and Iran.
"The hosting of anti-missile stations in Europe is the business of Russia, Europe and the US, but when it is a question of Azerbaijan, this interests and worries us, as it concerns our region," Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian said.
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