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Russian President Toughens Nuclear Stance

Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to aim nuclear weapons at European targets Monday in response to a planned U.S. missile defense program in Europe. An international affairs professor and a former Russian and Soviet army official discuss the tensions.

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    President Bush began a week of diplomatic meetings and public speeches in Europe, arriving this evening in the Czech Republic, where citizens are split on their country becoming a major part of a U.S. missile defense plan for Europe.

  • JAROMIR BECICKA, Czech Republic Citizen (through translator):

    There are pros and cons. I'm concerned about the Russian reaction. It could lead to unnecessary tensions and production of weapons to balance the power.

  • ALES KUNCKY, Czech Republic Citizen (through translator):

    For sure, I am for the American radar. We have 40 years' experience with the Russians, and we can't expect from them any good. Even now, Putin is angry with us; I am 100 percent for it.


    Moscow's anger peaked this weekend, when President Vladimir Putin warned that Russia would take what he called "retaliatory measures" if Washington went forward with the plan.

    VLADIMIR PUTIN, President of Russia (through translator): We are told that the anti-missile defense system is designed for defending something which does not exist. Doesn't it seem funny to you? It would have been funny if it wasn't so sad.

    We are not satisfied with the explanations which have been presented to us. We think that there is no reason for placing an anti-missile system in Europe, and our military experts believe that this system will cover the territory of the Russian Federation up to the Urals.


    Putin raised the stakes even further when he told a group of Western newspaper reporters, quote, "If a part of the strategic nuclear potential of the U.S. appears in Europe, and in the opinion of our military specialists will threaten us, then we will have to take appropriate steps in response. What kind of steps? We will have to have new targets in Europe."

    As a part of the planned missile defense system, the U.S. wants to place a battery of ground-based interceptor missiles in Poland and an advanced radar system in the Czech Republic. The Bush administration says this defensive system does not threaten Russia, but rather offers protection to European countries in the event of a missile strike launched from Iran.

    Iran doesn't have missiles that can reach Europe, but the U.S. says it's only a matter of time.

  • STEPHEN HADLEY, National Security Adviser:

    It's not aimed at Russia. The systems we would deploy do not have capability of any significant character against Russian ICBMs destined for — you know, that are aimed at the United States. It just doesn't have any capability. It's a very limited capability about other states like Iran, who are developing ballistic missiles, and potentially the weapons of mass destruction that those missiles could deliver, so it's all about Iran.


    President Bush insisted last week the Cold War is over and announced he will host President Putin at the Bush family retreat in Maine early next month. But tensions between the U.S. and Russia about the missile shield could dominate the annual summit of the G-8 industrial nations this week in Germany.