Sat, Jun 16, 2007 - Page 6 News List

US to proceed with missile shield

SEPARATE SYSTEMS Robert Gates said a proposed US-Russian radar in Azerbaijan would be an addition and not a substitute for a US radar in the Czech Republic

AFP , BRUSSELS

With an effective NATO endorsement, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday that the US intends to expand a US missile shield in Europe despite vehement Russian opposition.

Gates told his Russian counterpart at a NATO-Russia meeting that Washington wants to work with Moscow on a proposed US-Russian radar in Azerbaijan but not as a substitute for a US radar in the Czech Republic.

"I was very explicit in the meeting 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," he told reporters.

Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov was quoted by the Russian news agency Interfax as warning the ministers that the deployment of a US radar in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland would be an "unfriendly step."

"We see such a decision as a step aimed at destroying the existing security system, creating new dividing lines on the European continent," he was quoted as saying.

But a senior US official said Serdyukov did not repeat recent threats to target Europe and did not place conditions on a proposal by Russian President Vladimir Putin for a joint US-Russian radar in Gabala, Azerbaijan.

"Mr Serdyukov spoke before I did, and did not speak again during the session," Gates said.

Gates said no NATO ally voiced opposition to the US missile defense plans at the meeting with the Russians or in an earlier all-NATO meeting.

"There obviously is interest in trying to encourage the Russians to participate with us to make the system complementary to NATO's shorter range-missile defenses and for transparence," he said.

"But as I said there was no criticism from any of those who spoke and quite a number of the ministers did speak," he said.

Asked about recent Russian threats, Gates said: "One theme of several of the representatives of the alliance during the meeting was the need to modulate rhetoric and for us to deal on a businesslike basis with one another."

Last Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Washington to freeze work with Poland and the Czech Republic on its missile shield, suggesting that continued talks might worsen the Iranian nuclear stand-off.

NATO defense ministers agreed to assess the political and military implications of the US missile defense plan with an eye to what NATO would have to do to defend areas in southern Europe not under its umbrella.

The assessment is to be completed by February next year ahead of a NATO summit in Bucharest to inform deliberations on fielding a theatre missile defense system that could be "bolted on" to the US system, NATO officials said.

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