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Russian, U.S. experts to meet over missile shield in April

RIA Novosti

16/03/2007 14:06 BRUSSELS, March 16 (RIA Novosti) - Russian and U.S. experts will discuss Washington's missile defense plans in Central Europe on the sidelines of a NATO-Russia Council meeting in April, a NATO official said Friday.

The United States plans to deploy a radar installation in the Czech Republic and a missile base in Poland by 2011-2012, saying the shield is needed to counter possible attacks from Iran. But Russia objects to the plans, treating them as a security threat.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the two countries had reached a preliminary agreement on the consultations.

NATO Spokesman James Appathurai said Wednesday NATO was not involved in the U.S.' missile talks with the two former Communist-bloc states.

But Apparthurai said the NATO chief had suggested the alliance should give a political assessment of the future deployment of U.S. defense shield elements in Central Europe. NATO experts had already admitted the possibility of a missile strike on Europe, saying the defense shield would be justified.

Apparthurai reiterated that the missile deployment did not pose a threat to Russia, the position Washington has repeated on many occasions.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said earlier the issue should be discussed within NATO and with Russia. And France's defense minister said the decision to deploy the missile shield elements in Poland and the Czech Republic should be made after a genuine dialogue with Russia.

"Any action that could push Russia back into self-isolation is unacceptable," Michele Alliot-Marie said, adding Russia felt that it was distrusted and the issue required "greater transparency."

Moscow, which has long been concerned about NATO's further eastward expansion, also says the proposed deployment is a destabilizing factor for Europe.

The March 1 Pentagon announcement of its intention to deploy a radar base in the Caucasus further fueled Russia's concerns, evoking suspicions that NATO-oriented Georgia could be a possible site. Georgian officials have denied the possibility.

The project to build the missile defense elements in the former Communist-bloc countries will cost an estimated $1.6 billion. Washington said the shield in Central Europe could be expanded in the future after adding sea- and space-based anti-missile defenses to them.

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