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Rhetoric cools on US plan for missile shield

HEILIGENDAMM, Germany -- Russia and the United States yesterday appeared to step back from their confrontation over a planned US missile shield, as President Bush said Moscow was not a menace to Europe and the foreign minister of Russia withdrew a threat to pull out of a conventional arms treaty.

The conciliatory remarks came as leaders of the Group of Eight industrialized nations gathered for a summit meeting that was at risk of being overshadowed by President Vladimir Putin's threat to aim Russian missiles at nuclear sites in Europe if Washington, as planned, deployed the shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

"Russia is not going to attack Europe," Bush said yesterday. "As I said yesterday, Russia is not an enemy. There needs to be no military response because we are not at war with Russia."

Speaking in Prague before traveling to Heiligendamm, the site of the summit meeting, Bush said that Putin had nothing to fear. The shield, he said, is a "purely defensive measure."

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Tony Blair, the British prime minister, called for a more constructive relationship with Russia after months of threats by Moscow to withdraw from several arms control treaties and the Kremlin's recent test of a new intercontinental ballistic missile that officials said could pierce any defense system, including the planned US shield.

Last month, Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, called an emergency conference for next week in Vienna to discuss the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe after Putin announced that Russia would freeze its commitments under the pact.

But Lavrov, who has consistently taken a tough stance against the US missile shield, said yesterday that Moscow was not planning to withdraw from the treaty.

Signed in 1990 by Western countries and members of the Warsaw Pact, the treaty set ambitious goals for reducing and limiting the number of battle tanks, heavy artillery, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters deployed and stored in countries stretching from Canada across Europe to the Ural Mountains in Russia.

The treaty was updated in 1999 to take into account the breakup of the former Soviet Union so that it could be applied to new independent states, including Georgia and Moldova, where Russia still had considerable forces and equipment. So far, however, the 26 NATO countries have refused to ratify the amended treaty pact unless Russia withdraws its forces.