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Funding Row Cloud Talks On US Missile Shield Plan

Democratic lawmakers said Thursday that they were concerned over Washington's rush to put in place an "unproven" ballistic missile defense system amid opposition from an increasingly belicose Russia.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) May 03, 2007
President George W. Bush's administration warned Thursday that plans by Congress to cut funding for a missile defense shield in Europe could complicate negotiations for the installation of the facilities in Poland and Czech Republic. The strategic forces subcommittee of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted unanimously on Wednesday to block key funding for the missile installation aimed at thwarting a potential Iranian missile threat.

The move came as Bush administration officials prepared to visit Warsaw and Prague later this month to begin formal negotiations on the placement of missile defense facilities in those countries.

The US assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, John Rood, said the Congressional move would "present issues for us in our discussions with those allies."

"And at a time when NATO allies have responded so positively to our recent discussions, I would urge against taking such a step," he said when responding to a question on the funding cutback during a House hearing Thursday.

"We obviously would like to see the Congress fully fund the president's request," said Rood, who will lead an interagency team to the two East European capitals to launch talks on the placement of the missile defense facilities.

"If successful, these agreements would enable us to improve the security of the United States and our allies by giving us the capability to defend against the real and growing missile threat from the Middle East," he said.

The House strategic forces panel on Wednesday cut 160 million dollars from the administration's 310 million dollar request for the missile program in fiscal 2008, which starts October 1.

The Bush administration has proposed fielding 10 ground based interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic.

But Democratic lawmakers said Thursday that they were concerned over Washington's rush to put in place an "unproven" ballistic missile defense system amid opposition from an increasingly belicose Russia.

Robert Wexler, chairman of the House subcommittee on Europe, raised "political, economic and security concerns" over the system.

"Europeans also question why -- if this program is really intended to protect Europe -- did the administration choose to bilaterally negotiate with Poland and the Czech Republic rather than collectively decide this issue in NATO," he said.

"It is unacceptable for the American people -- who have footed hundreds of billions of dollars for the debacle in Iraq -- to once again provide a blank check to the president ... on a questionable missile defense program, whose costs at a minimum ought to be shared by our European allies," he said.

Rood said that Washington had proposed "transparency and confidence building measures" to Russia as well as options for potential missile defense cooperation with Moscow to address its concerns over the missile defense plan.

Daniel Fried, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said Washington was working with NATO to explore how a US long range missile defense system could work with NATO missile defense systems.

"We would be able to link NATO systems with the ones we plan to deploy in order to ensure interoperability," he said. "We have raised this idea of cooperation with NATO and hope the alliance will agree to it."

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A Scheming America Or An Uncooperative Russia
Moscow (RIA Novosti) May 03, 2007
Having suggested deployment of missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, and achieved their tentative consent to host them, Washington has met with not only Russia's tough reaction but also the most unpleasant irritation of its main European allies.

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