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NATO calls for calm between U.S., Russia

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published April 28, 2007


MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that a planned U.S. missile shield in Central Europe was unacceptable because it would extend American control deep into Russian airspace, not deter Iran as Washington says.

NATO officials called for calm in the dispute, which escalated when Putin threatened on Thursday to pull out of a key European arms-control treaty if no agreement was reached.

The conflict was complicated by other growing tensions between NATO and Russia. At a meeting of the alliance in Oslo, Norway, the two sides clashed over issues including independence for Kosovo and NATO expansion into Eastern Europe.

But in Moscow, Putin focused on his objections to the missile shield plan.

"These systems will control Russian territory up to the Urals - if, of course, we do not take action in response, and we will, " Putin said after meeting with Czech President Vaclav Klaus. The Ural Mountains sit hundreds of miles inside Russia, dividing Europe from Asia.

Washington says it wants to install interceptor missiles and radar systems in the Czech Republic and Poland to counter the threat of attack by countries such as Iran, which is pursuing a nuclear program and long-range missiles.

Putin dismissed that motive, saying Russia was ready to prove "with the very simplest documents that neither terrorists ... nor Iran nor North Korea" has missiles that would require such a defense system. In Iran's case, "they are not foreseen in the near future, " he said.

Many experts believe, however, that Iran is developing a missile with a range between 1, 200-1, 900 miles, which would enable it to hit much of Europe.

In Washington, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the missile shield would pose no threat to Russia and the country's reaction was hard to understand. He decried "a return to more bellicose language that's reminiscent of the Cold War."