Germany's foreign minister called Monday for a calm debateby the European Union, the NATO alliance and Russia on U.S. plans to develop an anti-missile shield in Europe.
A top Russian general, however, increased the bellicosity of the debate, noting that the Russian air force could easily knock out any such missile-defence sites the U.S. places in Europe.
"Since missile-defence elements are weakly protected, all types of our aircraft are capable of applying electronic countermeasures against them or physically destroying them," Lt.-Gen. Igor Khvorov said Monday, according to Russian news agencies Interfax and RIA-Novosti.
'We will have no stability in Europe if we push the Russians into a corner.' —Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg foreign minister
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose country holds the EU presidency, made his call for calm amid growing concerns in Moscow and in the EU over Washington's talks with the Czech Republic, Poland and Britain about those countries hosting radar bases and interceptor missiles as part of the plan.
"What we have to do now is to discuss this calmly within NATO and the EU and … to talk to the Russians," Steinmeier told reporters as he went into a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said the U.S. plan was "incomprehensible," adding that money spent on a European missile-defence system could be better spent elsewhere.
"We will have no stability in Europe if we push the Russians into a corner," he said.
The comments came ahead of Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek's visit to NATO headquarters, where he was to discuss the controversial plan later Monday.
Several EU nations, including France, have voiced concern that such a system could hurt European ties with Moscow. The Russians have strongly criticized the plan to place a radar system in the Czech Republic and a missile-interceptor site in Poland.
Iran the threat, not Russia: U.S.
Washington has offered assurances that the installations would be meant to deal with a potential threat from Iran, not Russia.
However,Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that he does not trust the American claims and warned that Russia would take countermeasures.
German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung suggested Friday that the U.S. plan could be integrated into the defences of NATO.
Britain is also in talks with the U.S. about the deployment. On a visit to NATO headquarters Thursday, the director of the U.S. Missile Defence Agency, Lt.-Gen. Henry Obering, said Washington also wants to put an anti-missile radar sitein the Caucasus, a move likely to intensify Russian concerns.
In another reflection of the increasing tensions, Russia's presidential Security Council said it was developing a new national military doctrine that would take into account the growing role of military force in global politics.
While it did not mention the United States, the statement referred to the strengthening of NATO as one of the global policy factors that explain the need for Russia to revise its military doctrine. Last month, Putin accused the U.S. of the unrestrained use of force worldwide.
Canada remains out of N. American missile defence
In February 2005, Prime Minister Paul Martin announced that Canada would not participate in a North American missile-shield program with the U.S.
Although critical of the decision at the time, in July 2006,Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his Tory government wasn't prepared to open the debate on whether Canada should reverse the Liberal decision and join the U.S. ballistic missile-defence program.
However, Harper said he understood the need to have a "modern and flexible defence system" to combat missile threats.