By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the U.S. ambassador on Wednesday of arrogance over remarks he made on the contentious issue of missile defense, Russia's latest rebuke of an envoy whose three months in Moscow have been clouded by controversy.
Lavrov said U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul had "arrogantly" rejected Russia's concerns about U.S. plans for a European missile shield in a recent interview with state-run RIA news agency, according to RIA and other Russian media.
"Yesterday our colleague, the U.S. ambassador, arrogantly announced there will be no changes on missile defense, even though it would seem that an ambassador ... should understand it is necessary to take the interests of the state in question into account," RIA quoted Lavrov as telling students in Azerbaijan.
Lavrov was referring to an interview in which RIA cited McFaul as saying the United States would press ahead with the creation of a European anti-missile shield capable of protecting the United States and its NATO allies and would not place limits on its potential development.
McFaul's reported remarks were in line with previous statements by the United States, which has rejected Russian calls for a legally binding guarantee that the system could not be used to weaken Russia.
Washington says the shield is meant to protect against a potential Iranian threat, but Russia says it risks tipping the balance of nuclear power between itself and the United States in Washington's favor.
There was nothing new about the substance of Lavrov's remarks, as Russia has repeatedly accused the United States of ignoring its concerns despite an agreement reached at a NATO summit in 2010 to seek cooperation between Russia and the alliance on missile defense.
TENSION AROUND AMBASSADOR
Lavrov's choice of words, however, seemed to underscore tension surrounding McFaul, who was behind President Barack Obama's "reset" policy that has improved ties with Russia in recent years but has faced criticism from state-connected media, and in some cases officials, since he arrived in January.
A longtime Russia watcher even before he became ambassador, McFaul has become a lightning rod for accusations that the United States supports Kremlin opponents and the leaders of opposition protests that were the largest of President-elect Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule. Before McFaul arrived, Putin leveled the same accusations against Washington during his successful campaign for the March 4 presidential election.
McFaul sparred verbally last week with a television crew as he headed to a meeting with a human rights activist, saying it had been following him everywhere and asking how its members had learned of his schedule. After that incident, the U.S. State Department said it had raised concerns about his security with the Russian government.
Earlier in March, when McFaul wrote on Twitter that he was troubled to see protesters detained in Moscow the day after Putin's election, the Foreign Ministry responded with a post saying the police had been "several times more humane" than those who had dispersed U.S. Occupy Wall Street protests.
(Editing by Andrew Osborn)