- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 23, 2011

MOSCOW Russia’s president threatened Wednesday to deploy missiles to target the U.S. missile shield in Europe if Washington fails to assuage Moscow’s concerns about its plans.

Dmitry Medvedev’s harsh warning reflected deep cracks in U.S.-Russian ties despite President Obama’s efforts to “reset” relations with the Kremlin.

Mr. Medvedev said he still hopes for a deal with the U.S. on missile defense, but he strongly accused Washington and its NATO allies of ignoring Russia’s worries.

He said that Russia will have to take military countermeasures if the U.S. continues to build the shield without legal guarantees that it will not be aimed against Russia.

The U.S. repeatedly has assured Russia that its proposed missile-defense system wouldn’t be directed against Russia’s nuclear forces, and the Pentagon did that again Wednesday.

“I do think it’s worth reiterating that the European missile-defense system that we’ve been working very hard on with our allies and with Russia over the last few years is not aimed at Russia,” said Capt. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. “It is … designed to help deter and defeat the ballistic missile threat to Europe and to our allies from Iran.”

But Mr. Medvedev said Moscow will not be satisfied by simple declarations and wants a binding agreement.

“When we propose to put it on paper in the form of precise and clear legal obligations, we hear a strong refusal,” the Russian president said.

Mr. Medvedev warned that Russia will station missiles in its westernmost Kaliningrad region and other areas, if the U.S. continues its plans without offering firm and specific pledges that the shield isn’t directed at its nuclear forces. He didn’t say whether the missiles would carry conventional or nuclear warheads.

The U.S. missile-defense dispute has long tarnished ties between Moscow and Washington. The Obama administration repeatedly has said the shield is needed to fend off a potential threat from Iran, but Russia fears that it could erode the deterrent potential of its nuclear forces.

Moscow has agreed to consider a proposal NATO made last fall to cooperate on the missile shield, but the talks have been deadlocked over how the system should be operated.

Russia has insisted that it should be run jointly, which NATO has rejected.

Mr. Medvedev also warned that Moscow may opt out of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the United States and halt other arms-control talks, if the U.S. proceeds with the missile shield without meeting Russia’s demand.

The Americans had hoped that the New START would stimulate progress in further ambitious arms-control efforts, but such talks have stalled because of tension over the missile plan.

While the New START doesn’t prevent the U.S. from building new missile defense systems, Russia has said it could withdraw from the treaty if it feels threatened by such a system in future.