U.S. Slams Kaliningrad Threat

TALLINN, Estonia -- The United States views Russian threats to place tactical missiles in the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad as provocative and misguided, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.

Russia made the move in response to U.S. plans for a missile-defense system in Europe, which Moscow sees as a threat to its security. Washington says it is needed against missile strikes from what it terms rogue states, notably Iran.

Gates, speaking after a NATO meeting with Ukraine, said the Russian threats were "hardly the welcome a new American administration deserved.

"Such provocative remarks are unnecessary and misguided," Gates told a news conference in the Estonian capital Tallinn.

President Dmitry Medvedev told French daily newspaper Le Figaro, in an interview published Thursday, that Moscow could cancel its deployment of the Iskander missiles if Obama scrapped plans for the missile-defense system.

"Quite frankly, I am not clear what the missiles would be for in Kaliningrad. After all, the only real emerging threat on Russia's periphery is Iran, and I don't think the Iskander missile has the range to get there," Gates said.

The outgoing head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency on Wednesday urged Obama to stick to the Bush administration's plans to place missile defenses in Eastern Europe.

Dropping the planned installations "would severely hurt" U.S. ability to protect against Iran's growing missile force, said Air Force Lieutenant General Henry Obering said in Washington.