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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Urged to Accept Azeri Radar

Senior government officials warned on Thursday that a snub from Washington over Moscow's proposal to share an Azeri radar base would strengthen their belief that Russia was the real target of a planned U.S. missile defense system in Central Europe.

General Yury Baluyevsky, chief of the General Staff, said that with Iran posing no immediate missile threat, the aim of the planned U.S. sites in Poland and the Czech Republic clearly must be against Russia's nuclear missile arsenal.

"That is a litmus test," Baluyevsky told reporters of President Vladimir Putin's proposal for the shared use of the Russia-rented early warning radar in Azerbaijan. "The entire world will see the true aim of this system."

Baluyevsky described the U.S. plans as part of efforts to weaken Russia's nuclear deterrent and referred to what he said were U.S. Cold War-era plans for a disarming nuclear first strike, using missile defenses, that would deprive Russia of the ability to retaliate.

"I don't want to see that even in my worst nightmare," he said.

The Russian military, he said, would take "asymmetrical steps" to ensure the nation's nuclear deterrent capability, possibly involving new Iskander missiles, but he refused to elaborate.

Separately, Sergei Kislyak, a deputy foreign minister in charge of arms control, dismissed Iran's claim that it had received indications from Putin that he would not follow through with an offer to allow the United States to use the Azeri radar.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that the current state of U.S.-Russian relations was "alarming," and warned that Moscow would not accept lecturing from the United States. However, on a conciliatory note, he added that Moscow was ready to improve relations with the United States if Washington shows more respect for its interests.

In Washington, State Duma deputies discussed bilateral relations with members of the U.S. Congress in a friendly exchange. But U.S. lawmakers, including Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, raised questions about Russia's human rights record, restrictions on media freedom and the recent critical rhetoric from Russian leaders about the United States.

Duma members, including Lantos' counterpart, Konstantin Kosachyov, said that while Russians were often too easily offended by outside criticism, many U.S. critiques reflected a superficial understanding of Russia. "We in Russia are sometimes too sensitive to assessments we hear from foreign partners," Kosachyov said through an interpreter. "However, we are sometimes puzzled and disappointed by some statements that come from the U.S."

In testimony delivered to a U.S. Senate panel, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Fried on Thursday attributed recent friction with Moscow to a Russian perception that the West encroached on its interests while its economy was weak and its government in disarray in the 1990s.

AP, MT