Kiev (AFP) March 14, 2007
The head of the US missile defence programme met Ukrainian officials Wednesday in a bid to allay concerns over US plans to place elements of its missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Lieutenant General Henry Obering, chief of the US Missile Defence Agency, reiterated Washington's assertion that the proposed shield posed no threat either to Ukraine or its eastern neighbour Russia.
Rockets that the US wants to place in Poland "are defensive weapons and do not even carry any type of explosive or warhead," Obering told reporters.
Their only purpose was to counter a perceived growing threat from Iran, he added.
Obering, who arrived in Kiev on Tuesday, has been meeting Ukrainian officials in several government agencies and ministries during his stay.
Before leaving Ukraine, he expected to brief officials in the office of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, he said. There was no immediate comment from Ukrainian officials on the talks.
During Obering's press conference, security personnel had to forcibly eject a handful of protestors who managed to disrupt the proceedings by heckling him. They waved banners and chanted "Yankee go home!" before being removed.
Outside the venue where Obering spoke, around 50 protesters chanted "Don't Let the NATO bandits in!" and "Ukraine, Belarus, Russia!". They waved banners that read "We Are Not Yankees -- We Are Slavs!"
The protests reflected the enduring mistrust and resentment that some people in this former Soviet republic still harbour towards the US.
As well as being sharply criticised by Russia and some Ukrainian officials, the US missile defence plans have also prompted concern in the European Union, particularly in Germany.
Obering's visit was part of a public relations drive to counter claims criticism that Washington has not done enough to expain to countries in the region why it needs to place missiles of any kind in the area.
Obering repeated the US message that the missile defence shield was needed to counter a threat from Iran.
"What we don't want... is to wake up and have an Iranian long-range missile capability and not have a defence against it," said Obering.
In the unlikely event of debris falling back to Earth after a missile interception, that debris "could not fall on Russia or Ukrainian territory," Obering said.
He also held out the prospect that Ukrainian industry might be able to play a role in developing the missile defence shield, something that analysts here have said could ease scepticism.
Obering said Washington had been consulting with Ukraine on the plans since 2002. In the last year "we have seen space industry cooperation that could emerge from these discussions," he added.
"Ukrainian industry could benefit by cooperating, as well as US industry."
No one has suggested that any elements of the missile shield could be sited in Ukraine.
But a substantial part of Ukraine's population has been angered by President Viktor Yushchenko's courting of the West and his hopes of joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also expressed concern over the US programme. On Tuesday, she called for the United States to hold open discussions with Russia over its missile defence plans.
earlier related report
"These are bilateral discussions. NATO has no role in them and does not wish to have a role in them," chief spokesman James Appathurai told reporters in Brussels.
In an interview Tuesday ahead of a visit to Poland, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: "I plan to tell the Poles that we would like this matter to be resolved within NATO and would also like open discussions with Russia about it."
The United States wants to build a bank of 10 interceptors in Poland from next year to shoot down missiles that might be fired from "rogue states" like Iran or North Korea.
The interceptors would home in on information provided by a tracking station to be set up in the Czech Republic, as well as a forward operating radar at an undisclosed location in the Caucasus.
Washington maintains that the new part of the shield -- to be fully operational by 2013 -- would protect not only eastern parts of the United States, but also many of its European allies.
But Russia, fearing such a system on its doorstep run by its former Cold War foe, is suspicious about the installation and has promised to take action to counter its effects.
Appathurai said NATO has held talks on its own ballistic system, after a report it commissioned found that there is a missile threat to Europe and that it is technically feasible to build a shield to protect Europe.
"The conclusion of the study, however, did not engage on whether such a system was desireable. This was a technical assessment, not a political assessment," he said.
Alliance defence ministers are expected to discuss the plans in June, but he said he thought the talks would not produce a great deal, describing them as "an opening round, not a decisive one."
Appathurai said that NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer "shares Chancellor Merkel's view that strategic missile defence is an issue that should be discussed within NATO."
But he added that "the secretary general has no intention that NATO should intervene in the discussion that is taking place between the United States and its European allies."
He also said that Russia has been fully and regularly briefed about the missile shield, including at NATO, and that "even the most cursory examination of what the United States is planning" shows it poses no threat.
Separately, NATO has also done extensive work done on theatre-missile defence, to help troops deployed in action, and hopes to test a system by 2010.
Source: Agence France-Presse
Email This ArticleUS General To Reassure Ukraine On Missile Defence Shield
Kiev (AFP) March 13, 2007
A top Pentagon official was to publicly reassure Ukrainians Wednesday about the United States' controversial plans to base elements of a missile defence shield in the region.
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