updated 2/21/2007 11:07:20 AM ET 2007-02-21T16:07:20

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday described as “extremely unfortunate” a Russian general’s threat to target Poland and the Czech Republic if they host American missile defense bases.

Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, head of Russia’s strategic missile forces, said Monday at a news conference that Russia might train its missiles on the two countries if they accept a U.S. proposal to base 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic.

“I think that was an extremely unfortunate comment,” Rice said at a news conference in Berlin.

She said U.S. officials had briefed Russia on their plans and made it clear that the system is aimed at a possible launch from Iran, not from Russia. The system is too small to stop Russia’s large nuclear arsenal, she said.

“Anyone who knows anything about this knows that there is no way that 10 interceptors... are a threat to Russia or that they are somehow going to diminish Russia’s deterrent of thousands of warheads,” Rice said.

“This is a missile defense system for limited purposes, we have had the opportunity to explain that to Russia... I think everyone understands that with a growing Iranian missile threat, which is quite pronounced, that there need to be ways to deal with that problem.”

Unhappy Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin has sharply criticized the missile defense plans, saying they risk provoking a new arms race. Analysts in Moscow say that while the currently proposed system could not stop Russia’s missiles, officials are concerned that might change with technological advances.

Solovtsov said at a news conference in Moscow that “if the governments of Poland and the Czech Republic take such a step ... the Strategic Missile Forces will be capable of targeting these facilities if a relevant decision is made.”

The system consists of interceptor rockets that release a small kill vehicle that maneuvers into the path of oncoming warheads and destroys them in a high-speed collision. Critics say the system has not been convincingly shown to work.

The European defensive shield would protect Europe and the U.S. East Coast, complementing bases at Fort Greely, Alaska and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, which are positioned to guard the West Coast from a theoretical launch from North Korea.

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