Bush tells Putin not to fear shield plans

United States President George Bush sought to calm Russia’s Vladimir Putin on Tuesday over plans for a US missile defence shield in Eastern Europe, saying on the eve of a big-power summit that Russia had nothing to fear.

The Kremlin leader reacted furiously to a US plan to site a radar system in the Czech Republic and missile interceptors in Poland, and warned Russia will target its missiles on Europe, as it did in the Cold War, if Washington goes ahead.

Bush, in Prague ahead of a Group of Eight (G8) summit in Germany where he will see Putin, said the missile shield was intended to protect against threats from ”rogue” regimes.

He again called on Moscow to participate in its development.

”Russia’s not our enemy,” he said after meeting Czech leaders at the ninth century Prague Castle.

The increased tensions between Russia and the United States on the eve of the G8 gathering in Heiligendamm prompted concerns among US allies.

”We consider it very significant that President Bush pledged to do all he can to explain these things to Russia and President Putin,” Czech President Vaclav Klaus said.

Bush sought to dispel concerns that countries cooperating with the US on the missile shield would be caught up in tensions with 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,” Bush said.

Apart from seeing Putin at the June 6 to 8 summit, Bush has also invited the Russian leader to his family’s retreat in Maine next month.

Bush said his message to Putin at those meetings would be: ”You shouldn’t fear a missile defence system. As a matter of fact why don’t you cooperate with us on a missile defence system, why don’t you participate with the US?”

The missile defence system was a ”purely defensive measure, aimed not at Russia but at true threats,” Bush said.

US officials have repeatedly said the missile defence shield was for protection against potential threats from ”rogue” regimes such as Iran. — Reuters

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