Minsk Denies Seeking Missiles

MINSK — Belarus denied Monday that it sought to deploy Russian missiles as a measure to counter a proposed U.S. anti-missile system in Central Europe.

A Foreign Ministry statement said an interview with President Alexander Lukashenko last week in The Wall Street Journal had created a "completely incorrect interpretation" of his statements. The Wall Street Journal stood by its story.

Lukashenko was quoted by the newspaper as saying Russia had suggested deploying Iskander missiles in Belarus and that even if Moscow failed to proceed with the proposal, Minsk would consider buying them for its own use.

The president was quoted as supporting Russia's proposal to deploy the missiles in its Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.

"Even if Russia does not offer these promising missiles, we will purchase them ourselves," the paper quoted him as saying. "Right now, we do not have the funds, but it is part of our plans — I am giving away a secret here — to have such weapons."

Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Popov, in a statement on the presidential web site, said "distortion" of Lukashenko's comments had led to incorrect assessments of Belarus' policy.

"May I stress that the Belarussian president made no statements about our country's intention to deploy Russian Iskander missiles in Belarus as a measure in response to the U.S. deployment of anti-missile systems in Europe," Popov said.

The site provided what it said was a transcript of the interview, which included no mention of any suggestion that Russia had proposed deploying the missiles in Belarus.

The Wall Street Journal, in a statement, said it noted Lukashenko's "support for Russian plans to target any U.S. missile system in Europe with Iskander missiles. It further notes that Mr. Lukashenko was considering deploying Iskander missiles. It did not seek to link the two issues in any way."