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Missile Shield Soon 'Operational'

A senior U.S. diplomat said Wednesday that the U.S. missile defense system could become operational within weeks, helping counter threats posed by nations such as Iran, the Interfax news agency reported.

Stephen G. Rademaker, the assistant U.S. secretary of state for arms control, said that the missile interceptors in Alaska are expected to enter service in the "nearest weeks," Interfax said.

Rademaker's statement comes amid expectations that the U.S. administration will shortly declare to the world that the missile defense system is operational and on alert. Such an announcement would be particularly valuable for President George W. Bush if it came before the Nov. 2 elections. Mr. Bush has touted the system while campaigning for re-election.

After years of vociferous protests, Russia reacted calmly to the deployment of the U.S. missile shield — the subdued response reflecting warmer U.S.-Russian ties, bolstered by Russian President Vladimir Putin's support for the U.S.-led war against terror.

But despite Putin's muted reaction to the U.S. missile defense plans, other Russian officials have emphasized that they threaten Russia's security.

North Korea, which U.S. intelligence officials believe has an untested intercontinental ballistic missile, has been regarded by the U.S. administration as the most immediate threat.

Rademaker said Wednesday that in the longer term, Iran could develop missiles capable of reaching the United States. He added that the U.S. administration believes that Iran also was striving to fit such missiles with nuclear warheads.

Over recent years, the United States has introduced sanctions against a number of Russian companies accused of leaking sensitive technologies to Iran.

Rademaker said Wednesday that the sanctions hadn't been introduced against the Russian state as a whole, because Washington trusts the Kremlin's assurances that the Russian government was doing all it could to stem such transfers, Interfax reported.

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