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Friday, March 16, 2007

Russia Proposes New Missile Defense System to Offset US Plans

While Russia said it intends to create its own missile shield in response to an American one planned to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic, NATO has warned that missile proliferation could split the alliance.

The head of the Russian air force said Tuesday that the country would begin developing a new air defense system after the US announced it planned to station two bases for its own missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, countries that used to fall under the former Soviet Union's sphere of influence but are now NATO members.

"We are moving to the creation of a new system of anti-aircraft defense which will significantly surpass the capabilities of the S-400," Gen. Vladimir Mikhailov said, referring to Russia's existing anti-aircraft missile system.

As the United States has done in presenting its plans, Mikhailov stressed that the system would not be used to attack other countries. "This is not an offensive but rather a defensive weapon," he said.

The head of the US Missile Defense Agency, Lieutenant General Henry Obering, was in Ukraine Wednesday to reassure politicians about the US plans to locate a missile battery in Poland and radar system in the Czech Republic. He is scheduled to brief officials in the German foreign ministry on the American anti-missile system plans on Thursday.

"We understand that General Obering is visiting Berlin with the aim of informing us about the current state of plans for the US defense shield," ministry spokesman Jens Plötner said. "We are happy to accept this offer for further information, and we see this as the start of another round of intensive consultations about this issue."

"Rogue states" posed threat to US, EU

Washington says the system is needed to defend the United States and European allies against the growing missile capability of "rogue states" such as Iran and North Korea and insists it would not be directed against its Cold War-era foe Moscow.

NATO, however, is concerned about the increasingly bellicose tones coming from Washington and Moscow. Some analysts have warned of a new Cold War following an impassioned speech criticizing US dominance made by Russian President Vladimir Putin at an international security conference in Munich last month.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Monday that the US shield had the potential to split the alliance into countries it protects and those it does not. "When it comes to missile defense, there shouldn't be an A-League and a B-league within NATO," he told the Financial Times. "For me it is the indivisibility of security that is the guiding principle."

A 2006 NATO report found that Europe faces a risk of a missile attack and said building an anti-missile shield would be feasible. The allies, however, remain divided over the extent of the threat and over the political and economic implications of developing such a system.

Discussion needs to continue

British Prime Minister Tony Blair also called on the UK to renew its nuclear deterrent to confront "new and potentially hazardous threats" to British security from states like Iran and North Korea.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is heading to Poland on Friday for two days of talks, said the US and NATO needed to work out their concerns over the missile program together and in consultation with Russia in "open discussions."

"We -- and I will say this in Poland -- prefer a solution within NATO and also an open discussion with Russia about it," she told German public broadcaster ZDF on Tuesday.

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung earlier this month also called on NATO to seek talks with Russia to defuse the row. German defense ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe on Wednesday reiterated that "such a complex theme is best tackled within NATO."

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