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US Missile Shield

DW staff (jam)March 16, 2007

The top US missile defense official sought to ease European fears about a missile shield that Washington plans to deploy in two EU nations. He also said the US is open to making the shield available to NATO.

The planned missile system has made some Europeans nervousImage: APTN

US Lieutenant General Henry Obering said on Thursday the missile defense installation was needed to counter "a very serious threat" emerging from Iran's long-distance missile program.

"We have the obligation to protect the US and its allies from that threat," Obering said, stressing the missiles were not aimed at Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denounced the project as a threat to Moscow's security and said Russia would counter the defense shield with a similar system.

Generalleutnant Henry Obering, Direktor der amerikanischen "Missile Defense Agency" informiert bei einem Pressefruehstueck in Berlin am Donnerstag, 15. Maerz 2007, Medienvertreter ueber seine Gespraec
Lieutenant General Henry OberingImage: AP

Washington plans to deploy 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and build a radar tracking station in the Czech Republic as part of its missile defense program.

"We are talking about 10 interceptors that we would place against potentially hundreds of missiles and thousands of warheads that the Russians maintain. This is not what threatens the Russian missile fleet," Obering said.

The general said he hoped discussions with the two EU newcomers would be concluded by summer so that construction of the facilities could begin next year, with completion set for 2011-2012.

Uneasy allies

The controversial scheme has triggered unease in Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel said the issue should be submitted to NATO and not decided on a bilateral basis with Washington.

The chancellor is expected to raise the matter with Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski when she visits Warsaw on Friday.

NATO Generalsekretär Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
NATO's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop SchefferImage: AP

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said this week that the alliance risked being split between countries that would be covered by the proposed shield and others left exposed to threats from Iran.

Opinion polls have shown a majority of Czechs are against the radar facility, which the US wants to build in a military zone, 50 kilometers (30 miles) southwest of Prague.

Obering, who flew in from Ukraine, was briefing German government officials and members of parliament before continuing on to France.

Part of NATO program?

Obering also said the US is open to suggestions made by some Europeans that the missile shield should be made available to NATO.

"What this could do from a NATO context is it could provide the long-range ... protection of a more extensive NATO missile defense capability, and we would welcome that," he told reporters in Berlin.

His comments appeared to aim at reassuring countries such as Germany. European diplomats say Merkel, who is now presiding over the EU presidency, wants to keep the debate from becoming an EU issue, fearing it could derail plans to revive the EU constitution.