Sarkozy sparks EU row with Washington as he tells Russia there's no need for U.S. missiles in Europe

French President Nicolas Sarkozy risked getting off to a bad start with Barack Obama yesterday by siding with Russia over Washington's missile defence system.

Mr Sarkozy, who is also current EU president, added to tensions between the two powers over the plans.

Russia believes U.S. plans to put a missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic to protect the U. S. against missile strikes from rogue states such as Iran poses a threat to its security.

New friends: Sarkozy and Medvedev shake hands today

New friends: Nicolas Sarkozy and Dmitry Medvedev shook hands on Friday

Last week, Moscow announced plans to deploy tactical missiles in the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad, bordering Poland, in response.

At a summit in Nice with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev yesterday, Mr Sarkozy said: ' Deployment of a missile defence system would bring nothing to security in Europe, it would complicate things and make them move backward.'

He proposed a freeze on missile deployment until after a conference he wants to hold next year on European security, to which he would invite the Russians.

But U.S. defence secretary Robert Gates condemned the Russian threat to place missiles on the Polish border as 'provocative and misguided'.

He added: ' This is hardly the welcome a new American administration deserves.'

The remarks came at the end of a week in which the United States and Russia rejected each other's proposed solutions to the stand-off over the missile plans.

It is increasingly likely that the dispute will not be resolved before U.S. President-elect Barack Obama takes office.

Obama has not been explicit about his intentions on European missile defence, saying it would be prudent to 'explore the possibility' but expressing some scepticism about the technical capability of U.S. missile defences.

Moscow sees the defence plans as a Cold War-style project that could eliminate Russia's nuclear deterrent or spy on its military installations.

Russia recently threatened to install short-range missiles close to EU borders in response to the U.S. plans for a missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Much of Western Europe is nervous about the idea of such major defensive weaponry stationed around the continent.

Sarkozy has generally been hawkish on Iran and allied himself more closely with Bush than his predecessor Jacques Chirac.

But Sarkozy is also clearly looking ahead to his relations with Bush's successor.

The governments of Poland and the Czech Republic said today they hope the new president will go ahead with the missile defence plans.

Medvedev argued against any such 'unilateral' moves.

He suggested that the Russian threat to install Iskander missiles in the Baltic Sea region of Kaliningrad - announced just hours after Obama's election - was 'a response to the behaviour of certain European states that agreed to deploy new (missile defences) on their own territories without consulting anyone.

'We all live in one house, let's all get together and find a way to reach an agreement,' he said.

Meanwhile, Friday's summit made a key step toward rapprochement between Russia and the European Union: The EU announced the resumption of partnership talks with Russia that had been put on hold because of the war in Georgia.

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