Russia Said To Back Off On Missile Threat

A military official said Wednesday that Moscow was backing off a threat to deploy missiles near Poland, according to a report that may have been aimed at testing U.S. President Barack Obama's intent to build a missile shield.

Interfax cited an unidentified General Staff official as saying Russia has suspended implementation of plans to deploy Iskander missiles in the Kaliningrad exclave because the Obama administration was not pushing hard to build an interceptor site in Poland.

A Kremlin official said the Interfax report erroneously implied that Russia had been taking action, now suspended, to place missiles in Kaliningrad. The official reiterated that President Dmitry Medvedev has said Russia would only send Iskanders there if the United States presses ahead with plans for missile interceptors in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. That policy has not changed, said the Kremlin official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the matter on record.

Still, the initial report sounded like a peace offering in one of the prickliest disputes between Russia and the United States under former President George W. Bush and may have been aimed at eliciting a clear signal from Obama about whether he will press ahead with his predecessor's plans.

Obama has said he supports missile defense but wants to ensure that it is proven to be a reliable system that does not detract from other security priorities. U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood reiterated that position Wednesday, saying, "We'll support missile defense if it's proven to work."

He said the reports from Russia were a "positive development" but that he could not confirm whether they were true and did not know if the United States had been directly contacted by the Russians about the matter.

In Brussels, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said it "would certainly be a good step" if Russia rescinded its threat to place missiles in Kaliningrad.

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg echoed widespread Western hopes that Russia would step back from the threat. "I hope that Moscow has come to the conclusion that it harmed itself when it announced this intention" to deploy the missiles, he said.

Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a U.S. Senate panel on Tuesday that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin showed signs of interest in working together on missile defense during meetings with U.S. officials while he was still president.