Rice rejects Russian concerns over U.S. missile shield plan

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says it's "ludicrous" for Russia to view an American plan to deploy a missile shield in Europe as a strategic threat to Moscow.

It's "ludicrous" for Russia to view an American plan to deploy a missile shield in Eastern Europe as a strategic threat to Moscow, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday.

"Let's be real about this and realistic about this,"Rice told reporters before a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Olso, Norway.

"The idea that somehow 10 interceptors and a few radars in eastern Europe are going to threaten the Soviet strategic deterrent is purely ludicrous and everybody knows it," Rice said.

"The Russians have thousands of warheads. The idea that you can somehow stop the Russian strategic nuclear deterrent with a few interceptors just doesn't make sense."

The NATO meeting is expected to focus on ways to bolster member involvement inits militarymission in Afghanistan, and differences between Russia and Western countries on the future of Kosovo, a province in southern Serbia which has been under United Nations administration since 1999.

Rice said the U.S. is interested in talking to Russia aboutU.S. plans to set up 10 interceptor rockets in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic in a bid to "demystify" the project.

"We are very happy to continue this dialogue but we have to continue on a basis of a realistic assessment of what we are proposing, not one that is grounded somehow in the 1980s."

However, Russia has indicated repeatedly that it is not interested in talking about the missile shield project with the U.S.

Moratorium on arms treaty

Earlier Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin imposed a moratorium on the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, a 1990 arms treaty, in part because of Russian concerns about the shield.

Putin said NATO countries have also failed to implement the treaty fully. He said Russia is concerned that NATO countries are building military bases near Russian borders and that the U.S. is planning to set up an anti-missile system in eastern Europe.

"Our partners are behaving incorrectly, to say the least," Putin said in his annual state of the nation address in Moscow.

"They are using the current situation to build up a network of military bases near our borders. What's more, they also plan to deploy elements of anti-missile defence in the Czech Republic and Poland."

Putin said Russia would withdraw from the treaty if no progress is made in talks between NATO and Russia on the issue.

"In this connection, I consider it expedient to declare a moratorium on Russia's implementation of this treaty — in any case, until all countries of the world have ratified and started to strictly implement it," he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was expected to attend the NATO meeting after its opening session.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said at a news conference that he thinks the issue of the missile shield will be discussed at the meeting, adding he expectsLavrov to explain Putin's comments on the treaty.

MacKay to attend NATO meeting

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said in a news release that he planned to attend the NATO meeting before heading to Brussels on Saturday to take part in a panel discussion on democracy in Afghanistan.

Canada has expressed reluctance to join the U.S. missile shield program in North America.

In February 2005, Prime Minister Paul Martin announced that Canada would not participate in the program.

Although critical of the decision at the time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in July 2006 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.

With files from the Associated Press