Vienna (AFP) March 23, 2007
The United States wants to reach an agreement by the end of the year on deploying anti-missile defences in eastern Europe, a senior US official said Friday, amid strenuous Russian objections to the plan.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mark Pekala told reporters that formal talks had begun with Poland and the Czech Republic over installing elements of the defence system in their countries.
"We would like to have the agreements accomplished certainly by the end of the year."
A total of 10 interceptor missiles and their accompanying radar would be deployed by about 2010, Pekala said.
Washington says the system is aimed at guarding Europe against potential threats from states like Iran and North Korea.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the US plan threatened Russia and would undermine cooperation in the United Nations, where Washington seeks Moscow's cooperation in tightening sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.
Lavrov wrote in Moscow's Moskovskiye Novosti newspaper Friday: "I hope our American partners think about this, especially as they are calling on us to fight a hypothetical threat while creating a real threat to our security."
In Poland, opposition leader Donald Tusk accused the government of caving in to US demands and "following policies without a clear vision of the consequences".
Pekala responded that the threat from Iran was "real and quite urgent" as the Islamic republic "could have medium or long-range missile capacity to deliver a significant payload to parts of Europe or much farther by 2010 or 2015."
The United States claims that Iran's nuclear programme is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.
"One of the worst outcomes that we can envision is an Iranian regime that makes threats against the existence of its neighbors, that is armed with long-range or medium-range weapons that could have such a lethal payload as a nuclear payload," said Pekala.
The US official was in Vienna to meet with ambassadors of several member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Pekala said the United States, which has its own anti-ballistic missile capability, is offering the Czech republic and Poland a chance to negotiate on a US deployment "to far extend the coverage of our ability to intercept these missiles."
These countries are in a central, strategic position for such a deployment and "will be enhancing their own national security against this kind of threat, ... (and) contributing enormously to this extended coverage in Europe. They will be playing a key role in defending their allies and friends."
Pekala repeated US reassurances that the system was "absolutely not" targetting the Russian arsenal.
"The Russian missile is too fast, faster than these, and these are placed too close to the launch sites" of Russian missiles to be a threat to Moscow's arsenal.
The interceptor missiles are "very small and very short," operate by hitting incoming missiles already high in flight and have no explosive charge of their own, Pekala said.
"It's absolutely untrue that they upset the strategic balance,"he said, noting that Moscow has "hundreds of missiles and thousands of warheads" and that the United States was ready to cooperate with Russia in anti-missile defence.
Pekala said the Czech Republic and Poland were "strongly in favour" of the system and of holding negotiations on the proposed deployment.
Poland wants missile deal with US, not NATO: defence minister
"If Poland accepts the American proposal, it will be in the framework of bilateral relations," Szczyglo said on TVN24 news television station.
"The proposal (to house missiles) was put to us by the United States, not NATO."
US Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, Daniel Fried, was in Poland this week to sound out government and opposition leaders on Washington's plans to base 10 unarmed Interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, to thwart potential attacks, from Iran in particular.
Parts of the shield are already in place in the United States, Britain and Greenland, and the plan is to have the system fully operational by 2011-2012.
Last year NATO completed a feasibility study which concluded that Europe does face the threat of missile attack and that it is technically possible to build a defence system, but no action has been taken on it.
Germany has expressed concern about Washington's plans to base more elements of its missile defence shield in Europe, saying it could be divisive and spark a new arms race on the continent.
"We have repeatedly warned against going it alone because we are trying to make it clear that we should strive to keep Europe together on this issue," government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm told a press briefing earlier this week.
"This should be discussed carefully and calmly within NATO," he added.
Russia, meanwhile, has said Washington's plan were disrespectful to the United States' EU and NATO partners.
The Kremlin has also expressed concern that the missile shield, based in its backyard, could target Russia.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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St. Louis MO (SPX) Mar 22, 2007
Boeing, working with industry teammates and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, last night successfully completed a Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system test using a powerful new sea-based sensor that will play a key role in defending the nation against hostile ballistic missiles.
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