Russia Tones Down Criticism of Missile Plans

MOSCOW (Reuters) -

Russia signaled on Thursday that a change in U.S. plans for a European anti-missile shield could help the two sides make progress towards resolving a dispute that has frayed their relations.

On Friday, the United States announced it would station 14 new anti-missile interceptors in Alaska after North Korea threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike, and forgo a new interceptor that would have been deployed in central Europe.

Cold War-era foes Moscow and Washington have long been at loggerheads over the shield in Europe. President Barack Obama’s move in 2009 to scale down earlier, Bush-administration plans only offered a short-lived respite. Russia’s main concern is that the European shield would weaken its nuclear deterrent.

Russia’s point man for U.S. relations, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, said on Thursday the planned changes brought a new element to the issue. He called for further dialogue, noting Moscow still had concern that U.S. missile defenses could threaten its security.

Ryabkov’s remarks were more upbeat than Russia’s initial, critical reaction to U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s announcement of changes in U.S. global missile defense plans on Friday. “There is no unequivocal answer yet to the question of what consequences all this can have for our security,” Ryabkov said.

“The causes for concern have not been removed, but dialogue is needed — it is in our interest and we welcome the fact that the American side also, it appears, wants to continue this dialogue,” he told reporters.