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The Pentagon is moving rapidly to build new missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic to counter the threat posed by Iranian long-range missiles, the head of the Missile Defense Agency told The Washington Times on Thursday.

“The immediate threat in terms of emerging threats that we see is obviously the Iranians, and they’re putting a lot of energy into that [long-range missile] program,” the paper quotes Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry “Trey” Obering, the agency’s director, as saying.

Obering told the Times that plans call for deploying 10 long-range missile interceptors in Poland along with a tracking radar in the nearby Czech Republic.

“We want to have this in place by the 2011, 2012 time frame because we think the Iranians, for example, shortly thereafter will be able to have a long-range capability,” he told the paper.

The sites will cost about $3.5 billion and are part of a global integrated missile defense designed to counter “rogue” nations’ missiles, including those from Iran and North Korea, he told the Times.

Iran has no long-range missiles, but is working on Shahab-4, Shahab-5 and Shahab-6 missiles that have ranges from 1,240 miles to 4,154 miles, which also could be used as nonmilitary space launchers, the Times reported.

Obering sought to calm Russian fears that the European-based interceptors will be capable of shooting down Russian long-range missiles, the paper reported. He said the interceptors pose no threat to Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles because they cannot intercept either the large numbers of Russian ICBMs, nor will they be capable of chasing them successfully from the Polish location.

But Russia on Friday harshly criticized U.S. plans to build the sites, shrugging off U.S. assurances.

A statement from Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin provided a detailed account of Russia’s opposition to U.S. proposals for Poland and the Czech Republic — former Soviet satellites that are now NATO members.

“We believe that plans for the creation of a U.S. missile defense in Europe are a mistaken step with negative consequences for international security,” Kamynin said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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