MOSCOW — Russia said Saturday it will scrap a plan to deploy missiles near Poland since Washington has dumped a planned missile shield in Eastern Europe. It also harshly criticized Iran's president for new comments denying the Holocaust.
Neither move, however, represented ceding any significant ground. A plan to place Iskander missiles close to the Polish border was merely a threat. And while the Kremlin has previously criticized Tehran for questioning the reality of the Holocaust, Russian leaders have refused to back Western push for tougher sanctions against Iran.
It still remains unclear whether Moscow will make any significant concessions on Iran and other issues in response to President Barack Obama's move to scrap the Bush-era plan for U.S. missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Popovkin told Ekho Moskvy radio Saturday that Obama's move has made the deployment of Iskander short-range missiles in the Kaliningrad region unnecessary.
He described Obama's move as "victory of reason over ambitions."
"Naturally, we will cancel countermeasures which Russia has planned in response, one of which was the deployment of Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad region," Popovkin said.
Russia had opposed Bush plan
Popovkin's statement was the most explicit declaration yet of Russia's intention to scrap the plan after Obama's decision, which was announced Thursday.
Popovkin later added, however, that the final decision on the subject can only be made by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Russian news agencies reported. Medvedev hasn't yet spoken on the issue.
Russia staunchly opposed the plan by the former administration of George W. Bush to deploy 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a related radar in the Czech Republic and said if the project went ahead it would respond by deploying the Iskander missiles in its westernmost Baltic Sea region.
Obama's decision to scrap the plan was based largely on a new U.S. intelligence assessment that Iran's effort to build a nuclear-capable long-range missile would take three to five years longer than originally thought, U.S. officials said. The new U.S. missile-defense plan would rely on a network of sensors and interceptor missiles based at sea, on land and in the air as a bulwark against Iranian short- and medium-range missiles.
Medvedev hailed Obama's decision as a "responsible move," but Russian officials have given no indication yet that Moscow could make concessions in other areas, including Iran. Washington is counting on Moscow to help raise pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program.
Holocaust remarks ‘absolutely unacceptable’
On Saturday, the Russian Foreign Ministry harshly criticized Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his Friday's comments in which he again questioned whether the Holocaust was a "real event."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko called the Iranian remarks "absolutely unacceptable" and insulting to the memory of the World War II victims.
"It won't help create a favorable international atmosphere for starting and conducting an efficient dialogue on issues regarding Iran," Nesterenko said in a statement.
Officials from the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany are to meet Iranian diplomats in Turkey on Oct. 1, for the first time since a 2008 session in Geneva foundered over Iran's refusal to discuss its uranium enrichment program.
Russia, which has close commercial ties with Iran and is building its first nuclear power plant, has condemned similar Ahmadinejad's statements in the past. Saturday's statement didn't necessarily mean that Moscow was prepared to toughen its stance on Iran in response to Obama's move to scrap the missile defense plan.
The U.S., Israel and the EU fear that Iran is using its nuclear program to develop weapons. But Tehran says the program serves purely civilian purposes.
Iran already has defied three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions since 2006 for its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment. Russia, which holds veto power on the U.N. Security Council, backed those sanctions but used its clout to water down tougher U.S. proposals. Russian officials have said too much pressure would be counterproductive.
Russian intentions could become more clear after Obama meets with Medvedev at the United Nations and the Group of 20 economic summit in the coming week.
Medvedev's predecessor and mentor, Vladimir Putin, who is widely believed to be continuing to call the shots as Russia's prime minister, has praised Obama's decision but challenged the U.S. to do more by canceling Cold War-era restrictions on trade with Russia and facilitating Moscow's entry into the World Trade Organization.
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