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NATO chief warns of split in Europe over planned US missile base

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

Brussels, March 12, IRNA
NATO-US missile bases
Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has warned that the alliance risks being split between countries that would be covered by the US's proposed missile defence program and other member states left exposed to missile threats.

"When it comes to missile defence, there shouldn't be an A-league and a B-league within NATO," Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in an interview with the European daily Financial Times published Monday.

The NATO chief's comments open a new front in the debate about the US's plans to establish a missile defence system, which has been dominated by Russia's objections to the Bush administration's request to install bases in Poland and the Czech Republic, noted the newspaper.

Several western European countries have expressed reservations, given that the scheme antagonizes Moscow.

Last week, French President Jacques Chirac declared that the US initiative risked returning Europe to the tensions of the Cold War.

The NATO secretary-general suggested that the US program could be complemented by existing NATO plans to put a battlefield missile defence system into operation by 2010.

"We are already moving forward with developing systems to protect deployed forces, rather than population centers and territories," he said.

"There could be at a later stage a relationship between the two systems."

But NATO officials, said the Financial Times, argue that Washington will proceed with its plans and that although the system is designed to protect the US, many western and central European countries would benefit.

The officials say it would be both feasible and affordable to extend the protection to countries otherwise exposed -- such as Turkey, Greece and Italy -- by the beginning of the next decade.

Many western European leaders have been skeptical of the cost- effectiveness of the US system. It is designed to shoot down a small number of missiles and would be overwhelmed by a large-scale strike.

The system, which costs more than USD 10 billion a year, has had an uneven test record.

A 10,000-page study by NATO last year concluded that it would be feasible to establish a Europe-wide missile defence system based on the US plan.

The study put the cost of the system at less than USD 10 billion without taking into account the Polish and Czech bases.


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