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EU foreign policy chief calls for debate on U.S. missile plans

RIA Novosti

29/03/2007 13:31 BRUSSELS, March 29 (RIA Novosti) - The European Union's foreign policy chief said Thursday that EU states should discuss Washington's plans to deploy elements of its missile defense system in Central Europe.

Washington has announced its intention to deploy elements of its missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, citing possible threats from Iran or North Korea as a reason for the program, and will soon begin consultations with these countries.

Javier Solana said the EU, which pursues a common foreign and security policy, should discuss the issue in the context of a union.

He said the EU is not a defense alliance or a decision-making platform for defense issues, but suggested it would be useful to think about and discuss the subject in an open and transparent manner.

He also said EU sovereignty should be in harmony with its security interests, and urged all EU countries to state their positions on the issue.

On Wednesday, the Czech government confirmed that it will begin official talks with the U.S. on the deployment of the system on its territory. The negotiations will start as soon as possible, and will last through the end of 2007.

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek spoke out in support of the initiative, saying it met his country's national interests and would reinforce its defense capabilities and raise the security of the country and of Europe as a whole.

The opposition has demanded a referendum to decide the issue.

Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said elements of the U.S. missile shield in Poland would guarantee that the country is no longer under Moscow's influence.

Russia sees the prospective deployment as a threat to its own national security, and fears the base may trigger a new arms race.

U.S. plans to deploy elements of the missile shield in Central Europe are expected to cost $1.6 billion over the next five years. The program will later be expanded to include sea-based missiles and space-based missile tracking systems.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Brian Green regretted Russia's refusal to accept the missile shield, but promised to inform Moscow about progress in the program and to look into opportunities for future cooperation on the issue.

Some European Union officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have called on the U.S. to harmonize its missile defense program with NATO.

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