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Moscow presses for multilateral talks over U.S. missile shield

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Moscow is against the bilateral discussions the U.S. is holding with Central European states on deploying a missile shield, and wants talks to be broadened to a multilateral format, a Foreign Ministry source said.
(Recasts lead, corrects date of talks in para. 2, adds details, background in para. 4, 7-9)

MOSCOW, May 25 (RIA Novosti) - Moscow is against the bilateral discussions the U.S. is holding with Central European states on deploying a missile shield, and wants talks to be broadened to a multilateral format, a Foreign Ministry source said.

At negotiations between the United States and Poland, which began Thursday in Warsaw, the sides agreed to deploy U.S. interceptor missiles on the Baltic Sea coast of the EU nation.

"Since the issue concerns the stability not only of particular European countries but of Europe as a whole, it should be discussed in a multilateral, not a bilateral format," the source said.

The U.S. announced plans in January to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland and a missile defense radar in the Czech Republic as part of its missile shield aimed at countering possible threats from "rogue states" such as Iran and North Korea.

The source reiterated Russia's opposition to the Pentagon's plans, which it views as a threat to national security, and said Russia is not convinced by Washington's justifications of the missile shield.

"We are considering them [the plans] from the point of our national security and our reaction will be appropriate," the source said, adding that the plans "could affect the strategic stability of the world as a whole."

U.S. President George W. Bush, who has repeatedly attempted to reassure Russia that the Pentagon's plans are not directed against the country, is expected to arrive in Prague in early June to discuss the issue with the Czech leadership.

In line with the plans the U.S. wants to modernize a radar system currently deployed on the Marshall Islands in the West Pacific and relocate it to the Czech Republic at a cost of $125 million, including testing and start-up costs.

A survey conducted earlier by the Czech pollster Ipsos-Tambor showed that 55.8% of Czech respondents oppose the deployment of the U.S. shield in the republic and 28.2% support the idea. A total of 52.1% of respondents said the republic could be a potential target. The Czech opposition in parliament has demanded a referendum on the issue, but the government has so far resisted.

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