TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) -Iran’s top security official on Monday called U.S. plans for an Eastern Europe missile defense shield that Washington says would protect U.S. allies from Iran a “joke,” saying Tehran’s missiles do not have the capability to reach Europe.
“Claims by U.S. officials that installing a missile defense system in Europe is aimed at confronting Iranian missiles and protecting Europe against Iran is the joke of the year,” Ali Larijani told the state-run IRNA news agency.
“The range of Iran’s missiles doesn’t reach Europe at all,” IRNA quoted Larijani as saying.
The United States has said plans to install a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe are meant to protect NATO allies against a missile launch from Iran. This week Bush is visiting Poland and the Czech Republic — former Soviet satellite states that are now NATO members, where Bush wants to base parts of the missile defense system.
On Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin assailed the White House plan and said that if the U.S. went ahead, Russia would have to take steps to restore the strategic balance in the world. He said he hoped that U.S. officials would change their minds.
“If this doesn’t happen, then we disclaim responsibility for our retaliatory steps, because it is not we who are the initiators of the new arms race which is undoubtedly brewing in Europe,” Putin told foreign reporters days before he heads to Germany for a summit with President Bush and other leaders of the Group of Eight.
Putin also said neither Iran nor North Korea have the rockets that the system is intended to shoot down, suggesting it would be used instead against Russia.