Wednesday, February 21, 2007

US builds pressure on Europe over bases

US builds pressure on Europe over bases
By Daniel Dombey in Brussels, Hugh Williamson in Berlin and Neil Buckley in Moscow
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: February 21 2007 19:26 | Last updated: February 21 2007 19:26

Tensions intensified on Wednesday over US plans for missile defence bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, as Washington called on Europe to take a tougher stance towards the Kremlin.

The Bush administration’s two top foreign policy officials lashed out at Moscow’s campaign against the bases, which Washington insists are aimed at possible threats from Iran rather than Russia.

Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, said the suggestion this week by Russia’s head of strategic rocket forces that Russia could target the two central European countries if they agreed to host the bases was “very unfortunate”.

She also dismissed comments by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, who said this week Moscow should have been consulted more about the sites, given their proximity to Russia’s borders.

Standing next to Mr Steinmeier at a press conference in Berlin, she said Washington had “10 formal contacts” with Russia on the plan since spring 2006, many at ministerial level.

Mr Steinmeier’s spokesman said the minister was aware that “technical talks” had taken place between Moscow and Washington, but said he had been warning against a return to the type of security stand-offs of the cold war era.

Separately in Brussels, Stephen Hadley, US national security adviser, emphasised Washington’s dismay at a speech this month in which Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, hit out at the missile defence plans and the US’s “unilateral” use of force.

“You heard a set of comments in which quite frankly we were disappointed,” Mr Hadley told the Financial Times and other European newspapers, between meetings with Nato ambassadors and Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief.

“I think a lot of Europeans were disappointed and dismayed. And one of the things that Europeans need to do is they need to make that clear to Russia and they need to make that clear to President Putin.”

The EU has consistently struggled to forge a common line on Russia. Countries such as Poland, which are suspicious of the Kremlin’s intentions, are pitted against big western European states such as Germany and France, which are often keen to deepen ties with Moscow.

General Yuri Baluyevsky, Russia’s army chief of staff, yesterday told Rossiiskaya Gazeta, a government newspaper, the missile defence system “cannot be viewed as anything other than a substantial reconfiguration of the American military presence” in Europe.


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