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Page last updated at 17:33 GMT, Thursday, 11 September 2008 18:33 UK

Warsaw hosts tense Russian talks

Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov at a press conference in Moscow (09/09/2008)
Poland wants to persuade Mr Lavrov the missile shield is no threat to Russia

Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has reiterated Moscow's opposition to a US missile system, during a visit to Poland.

"We cannot fail to see the risks emerging as a result of US strategic forces coming closer to our borders," he said.

The system will include interceptor missiles based in Poland. Russia has threatened to target the bases.

But Poland and Russia said they wanted to improve their strained relations.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski stressed the need for confidence-building measures.

Mr Lavrov admitted that Russia did not feel threatened by Poland itself, but added: "We are certain this system in Europe can have no other target for a long time to come but Russia's strategic forces."

Washington says the system is designed to knock out long-range missile strikes launched from countries like Iran, and is not aimed at Russia.

Russia's commander of strategic missile forces, Gen Nikolai Solovtsov said on Wednesday: "I cannot exclude that if such decisions are taken by our top military-political leadership, the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic and other such objects could be chosen as designated targets for some of our inter-continental ballistic missiles".

Strained relations

Despite the warning, Mr Lavrov hinted in comments published in a Polish newspaper on Thursday, that Russia would be "open to serious negotiations" on the matter.

"If the United States and Poland are willing to guarantee that the European anti-missile base is not aimed at Russia, then we are ready to consider concrete proposals," Mr Lavrov told the Gazeta Wyborcza.

The BBC's Adam Easton, in Warsaw, says that the fact that Mr Lavrov visited the country so soon after the Polish government agreed to host the missile defence system is being seen by commentators as something of a breakthrough.

Relations between the Russia and its former Soviet bloc neighbours have been increasingly strained by the conflict in Georgia.

Mr Lavrov has accused Warsaw of taking revenge on Russia for its actions in Georgia, and in a statement on Thursday the foreign ministry said it was also "seriously worried" by Ukraine's support for Georgia.

Some commentators and diplomats fear growing confrontation between Ukraine and Russia, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy this week expressed strong support for Ukraine's territorial integrity.

Nevertheless, Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk believes his country must engage with Russia - one of its largest trading partners - even if it strongly opposes Russia's actions in Georgia.



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