- Associated Press - Monday, February 7, 2011

MOSCOW | Russia sees the planned U.S. missile defense system as a potential threat to its nuclear forces and may review its participation in a landmark nuclear arms treaty, officials said Monday.

The New START deal, the centerpiece of President Obama’s efforts to reset ties with Russia and the most significant arms control pact in nearly two decades, took effect last week. It limits each country to 1,550 strategic warheads, down from the previous ceiling of 2,200.

The treaty doesn’t prevent the U.S. from building missile defense systems, but Russia has warned that it reserves the right to withdraw from the treaty if the United States significantly boosts its missile shield.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reaffirmed Monday that a buildup in the U.S. missile defense capability would prompt Moscow to reconsider its obligations under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

“If the U.S. increases the qualitative and quantitative potential of its missile defense … a question will arise whether Russia should further abide by the treaty or would have to take other measures to respond to the situation, including military-technical measures,” Mr. Ryabkov said, according to Russian news agencies.

Russia was strongly critical of the previous U.S. administration’s plan to deploy missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic and hailed Mr. Obama’s decision to scrap it. But the Kremlin has remained concerned about revamped U.S. missile defense plans and continued to see them as potentially dangerous to its security.

NATO last fall approved a plan for a U.S.-led missile shield in Europe and invited Russia to join, but Moscow hasn’t made a commitment. Analysts from both sides will examine the issue and report to defense ministers in July.

Mr. Ryabkov warned Monday that Russia won’t cooperate with NATO on the project unless it’s treated as a full partner.

“This must be a joint system with shared responsibilities, information exchange and decision-making in order to make us an equal and responsible member,” he said. “If two separate networks are built, things won’t change for us, and we will see a situation when the NATO system could potentially be used against Russia’s security interests. Cooperating on such a system would mean hurting ourselves.”

Russian officials have remained skeptical about U.S. and NATO claims that the proposed shield is designed to fend off any missile threat from Iran.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said Monday that the U.S. missile defense could be aimed only against Russian missiles.”This system could undermine Russian nuclear deterrent forces,” he said.

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