June 16th, 2007 13:35 EST
NATO allies plan to assess missile defense systems by February 2008
Washington -- NATO’s 26 nations have agreed to assess by February 2008 the political and military implications of planned missile-defense systems in Europe, and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said alliance members have voiced no criticism of the U.S. portion of the plan.
Gates also told reporters June 14 that an Azerbaijan radar site, proposed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, would complement, not replace, an anti-missile radar system the United States is negotiating to build in the Czech Republic. Gates visited Brussels, Belgium, June 14-15 for a scheduled meeting of NATO defense ministers, as well as a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council.
“I was very explicit in the meeting [of the NATO-Russia Council] that we saw the Azeri radar as an additional capability, that we intended to proceed with the radar, the X-band radar in the Czech Republic,” Gates said.
The United States is in talks with the Polish and Czech governments to host 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic to defend Europe and North America against intercontinental missiles launched from the Middle East. (See related article.)
Russia has expressed concerns that the missile-defense system could upset the long-standing nuclear deterrence posture in Europe. But the United States says the proposed 10 interceptors are too few to be effective against Russia’s numerous warheads.
At the annual Group of Eight Summit in early June, Putin made a surprise offer of partnership with the U.S. and European missile defense system, proposing to share data from a Soviet-era air-defense radar system leased by Russia and located in Azerbaijan. Reaction to the proposal has been mixed in Azerbaijan, where some worry the radar site could be seen as too provocative for neighboring Iran. (See related article.)
“I appreciated Putin’s recognition of the potential missile threat from the Middle East and welcomed his proposal last week to share radar data from Azerbaijan,” Gates told reporters.
Throughout the Brussels meetings, Gates said he did not hear criticism by allies of U.S. anti-missile plans in Poland and the Czech Republic.
“There were no criticisms by any of the NATO allies of our missile-system proposals or of our moving forward,” Gates said. “There obviously is interest in trying to encourage the Russians to participate with us, to make the system complimentary to NATO short-range missile defenses.”
Gates said NATO and the United States would continue discussing how to make their missile-defense systems work together in a complimentary way.
On June 14, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer released a statement saying the alliance will study the possibility of “bolting” NATO and U.S. missile-defense systems together to ensure that all 26 allies are protected effectively from future threats.
De Hoop Scheffer said the allies plan to assess by February 2008 the effects of U.S. anti-missile plans in Europe and how these plans can be coordinated with NATO’s own anti-missile plans.
“In essence, the alliance will pursue a three-track approach,” de Hoop Scheffer said in the statement. The three tracks include: continue the ongoing NATO project to develop by 2010 a theater missile-defense for protecting deployed troops; assess the full implications of the U.S. system; and continue existing cooperation with Russia on theater missile defense, as well as consultation on related issues.
De Hoop Scheffer stressed that missile-defense issues are based on two key principles: the “indivisibility of security” and that there cannot be “A or B” NATO members in terms of protection from missile threats.
A transcript of Gates’ remarks to reporters after the Brussels meeting is available on the Defense Department Web site.
The full text of a NATO statement on the Brussels meeting, as well as audio and video links to meeting events, is available on the NATO Web site.
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Source:By Vince Crawley
USINFO Staff Writer