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TALLINN (Reuters) - The United States views Russian threats to place tactical missiles in the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad as provocative and misguided, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday.
Russia made the move in response to U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Europe, which Moscow sees as a threat to its security. Washington says the system is needed against missile strikes from what it terms rogue states, notably Iran.
Gates, speaking after a NATO meeting with Ukraine, said the Russian threats were "hardly the welcome a new American administration deserved," referring to the fact they were made immediately after Barack Obama won the presidential election.
"Such provocative remarks are unnecessary and misguided," Gates told a news conference in the Estonian capital Tallinn.
At the same time, Washington would continue to seek a constructive and positive relationship with Russia, he said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told French daily newspaper Le Figaro, in an interview published on Thursday, that Moscow could cancel its deployment of the Iskander missiles if Obama scrapped plans for the missile defense system.
"I don't think that is a credible offer," Gates said, adding that Washington had put forward detailed proposals to Russia for partnering in missile defense.
"Quite frankly I am not clear what the missiles would be for in Kaliningrad. After all the only real emerging threat on Russia's periphery is Iran and I don't think the Iskander missile has the range to get there from Kaliningrad," he said.
"So, this is an issue apparently between ourselves and the Russians. Why they would threaten to point missiles at European nations seems quite puzzling to me," he added.
Reporting by Patrick Lannin and David Morgan; Editing by Matthew Jones