President Bush says U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe pose no threat to Russia. Russia's president says it is the start of a new arms race.
President Bush says Russia has nothing to fear from plans for a U.S. missile defense system in Europe.
"Russia is not our enemy. The enemy of free societies such as ours would be radicals or extremists or a rogue regime trying to blackmail the free world in order to promote its ideological objectives. My attitude on missile defense -- not my attitude this is the truth - it is a purely defensive measure aimed not at Russia but at true threats."
Mr. Bush spoke in Prague following talks with Czech President Vaclac Klaus and Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek.
The Czech Republic is central to the U.S. missile defense plan as the Pentagon wants to build a radar station outside the capital. If that station detected incoming missiles, they would be shot down by U.S. missiles launched from Poland.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says Washington is upsetting the strategic balance of the world, and he will not be responsible for retaliatory steps if the plan goes through. Mr. Putin told reporters in Moscow that Russia would respond by setting new targets in Europe that could be hit with ballistic missiles or cruise missiles or what he called a "completely new system."
Czeck Prime Minister Topolanek says the missile defense system is necessary to increase both Czech security and the security of European allies.
President Klaus also backs the system, but speaking through a translator, he urged President Bush to allay the fears of President Putin.
"We regard it as important that President Bush has promised to make maximum effort to explain these issues to Russia and President Putin. We have pointed it out to our guest that it is very important that we win maximum support for this project from the Czech public, who are very sensitive to those issues."
Public opinion polls show more than 60% of Czech's oppose the plan, many because they fear it will increase tensions with Russia.
President Bush said Czechs do not have to choose between America and Russia.
"The Cold War is over. It ended. The people of the Czech Republic don't have to choose between being a friend of the United States or a friend with Russia. You can be both. We don't believe in a zero-sum world."
U.S. officials say the missile defense plan is primarily aimed at stopping missiles from Iran.
Iran's top security official calls that "the joke of the year." Supreme National Security Council chief Ali Larijani told Iran's state-run news agency that the country does not have missiles capable of reaching Europe.
President Putin agrees, saying he does not believe there are real threats from Iranian or North Korean missiles, so he says the U.S. plan could be an effort to undermine Russia's relations with Europe.
President Bush says he is looking forward to discussing the issue with President Putin both on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Germany Thursday and at the Bush family home in the state of Maine early next month.