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WASHINGTON/CHISINAU (Reuters) - The United States denied on Friday that it planned to station U.S. radar systems in Ukraine, after published remarks by a U.S. defence official prompted Moscow to call for clarification.
Alexander Vershbow, a U.S. assistant secretary of defence, was quoted in Defence News as saying Washington had added the former Soviet country to a list of possible early warning sites as it moves to refashion a European missile defence system.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was attending a summit in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau, said: "The statement by Alexander Vershbow was rather unexpected. In principle, he is a person who is prone to extravagancies ... We would like to receive full clarification."
The U.S. defence department, responding to the report, said Vershbow said nothing about stationing U.S. radars "or any other missile defence systems on the territory of Ukraine."
Vershbow did tell reporters on Thursday that countries in the region, such as Ukraine, "may also have radars that could contribute to early-warning information," the department said in a statement.
The idea of the United States stationing radar in Ukraine set off alarms in Kiev. Newly-appointed Ukrainian Foreign Minister Petro Poroshenko said of the idea: "I think this is not constitutional."
President Barack Obama last month scrapped Bush-era plans for a missile shield in eastern Europe, pleasing Russia which had seen the project as a threat to national security.
That plan had envisaged stationing parts of the anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Washington wants to involve Moscow in the new missile defence plan and U.S. officials have expressed interest in tapping Russia's Armavir radar for early warning information.
The redrafted U.S. anti-missile plan, targeting small and medium-range missiles from Iran and other countries, has won a cautious welcome from Russia which is awaiting more details.
LAVROV TO MEET CLINTON
Lavrov meets U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Moscow on October 13 and could raise Vershbow's comments then.
Lavrov earlier told reporters he wanted to discuss European missile defences with Clinton as well as progress between the two former superpowers on strategic nuclear weapons cuts.
Still, it was not clear how Moscow would feel about any Ukrainian contribution to a U.S.-led early warning system.
Russia fiercely opposes the pro-Western policies of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, particularly his ambition to take Ukraine into NATO.
Yushchenko, also in Chisinau for the summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States, said Ukraine had received no proposal from the United States.
"I don't want there to be any fuss. The Ukrainian side has received no proposal," he was quoted by Interfax-Ukraine news agency as saying.
(Reporting by Denis Dymokin, Alexander Tanas and Phil Stewart; Writing by Richard Balmforth and Phil Stewart; Editing by Alan Elsner)

Reuters