London (AFP) Feb 23, 2007
Military police on Friday stormed a Greenpeace vessel that sailed into a submarine base in Scotland to protest Britain's plans to modernise its nuclear deterrent, the Royal Navy said. About 20 officers with battering rams clambered aboard the "Arctic Sunrise" at 5:25 pm (1725 GMT) outside the Faslane Naval Base on the River Clyde, north of Glasgow, which is home to Britain's Trident fleet of nuclear submarines.
The 164-foot (50-metre) former icebreaker breached the restricted area of the base early Friday morning as part of an anti-nuclear protest, eventually dropping anchor just outside a defensive boom at lunchtime.
Military police were in the process of motoring the ship inside the naval base to a waiting berth, where the protesters will be dealt with, the navy spokesman said. There was no resistance from the protesters, he added.
"We have put a pilot on board and we are manoeuvring the vessel from its location adjacent to the boom that protects the Trident submarines.
"We are taking it to a berth inside the base," he said.
About 20 activists on board had earlier refused a series of requests by Minsitry of Defence (MoD) police to move the vessel, warning instead they had no intention of leaving.
Police earlier arrested 16 activists who accompanied the "Arcitc Sunrise" in six rigid hull inflatable boats.
The environmental group aimed to block submarines from exiting the base but not entering, after hearing that lawmakers from the governing Labour Party were about to tour the facility.
A navy spokeswoman said members of parliament had been due Thursday morning to visit Faslane, but that the visit had been cancelled last week.
Parliament is due to vote in March on whether to support Prime Minister Tony Blair's plans to modernise the Trident nuclear weapons system at a cost of about 25 billion pounds (37 billion euros, 46 billion dollars).
The current deterrent consists of four Royal Navy submarines, one of which is always on patrol, fitted with US-built Trident missiles. It will become obsolete in the mid-2020s.
Opposition to nuclear weapons was historically a central plank of Labour Party policy throughout the Cold War, and Blair's proposals have sparked wide debate and opposition both within parliament and the media.
Many Labour lawmakers argue that a deterrent is no longer needed after the end of the Cold War.
The US administration says the shield is to guard against any attack by rogue states such as Iran or North Korea. Moscow has dismissed this argument.
Prime Minister Tony Blair's office said the US-British talks were at a very early stage as Britain bids to be "kept in consideration" as a possible location for the system.
"The prime minister thinks it is a good idea that we are part of the consideration by the US," a spokeswoman for Blair said.
"We believe that it is an important step towards providing missile defence coverage for Europe, of which we are part."
The confirmation came after The Economist weekly reported that Blair, a key US military ally, had been "discreetly waging a campaign" for several months because he believed the system would make both Britain and the United States more secure.
It said that a new missile silo could be sited at an existing US military base in Britain.
However, the US deputy chief of mission in London, David Johnson, said Britain was not the main focus.
"As we go forward there may be opportunities for us to talk to other countries about their needs, but right now we are concentrating on the Czech Republic and on Poland as the primary sites where we would be looking for this," Johnson told BBC radio. The Economist quoted US officials as saying that the interceptors are purely defensive weapons that are just chunks of metal without warheads that would destroy ballistic missiles through impact in space.
The BBC said that Blair had discussed the shield with US President George W. Bush and that Blair's chief foreign policy advisor, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, had been working with the US National Security Council on the issue.
Without confirming the BBC report, the Blair spokeswoman said discussions had taken place at "various levels."
Liam Fox, the opposition Conservative spokesman on defence, told BBC radio that the government had to explain whether the shield was "applicable and practical" and outline the nature of the threat against which it might be used.
Fox warned that both Russia and Iran had stepped up their investment in ballistic missiles.
In Berlin Wednesday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the planned system was designed to counter a threat from Iran, which Washington fears is developing nuclear weapons, and posed no danger to Russia.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), a British pressure group, said the US shield would spark a "new arms race."
Even though Washington called it defensive, it "would enable the US to attack other countries without fear of retaliation," it said.
CND also argued that the system was unreliable and chairwoman Kate Hudson warned that the system, if deployed, would put Britain on "the front line in a future war".
CND is among the main opponents to Blair's desire to replace Britain's US-built Trident missile nuclear deterrent, arguing it would lead to a new wave of nuclear proliferation. A vote is due in parliament next month.
The missile shield has been nicknamed "son of Star Wars" after the Strategic Defence Initiative, known as "Star Wars", launched by President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s before the Soviet Union collapsed.
The United States already has interceptor silos in Alaska and California to defend against an attack by North Korea.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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To the deafening roar of war planes taking off from the nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, US military commanders insist that intimidating Iran is not part of their mission in the region. The carrier and its battle group has been in the Gulf of Oman since February 19, anchored about 120 nautical miles off the coast of Pakistan, in what the US Navy says is a mission to provide support for ground forces operating in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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