Despite strong opposition from Russia, the Bush administration has beefed up is efforts to build a controversial missile defense system in eastern Europe, it was reported Wednesday.
In addition to Russia's bitter reaction, the move raised fears of a new arms race elsewhere in the world, said the Los Angeles Times.
Under the system, the United States would base 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar center in the Czech Republic, both formerly part of the Soviet Bloc, according to the paper.
The project, to be discussed at a NATO meeting later this month, could escalate a simmering diplomatic issue into a significant international dispute, depending on Moscow's reaction and the administration's next moves, said the paper.
A senior Pentagon official responsible for overseeing the plan said in a briefing that the administration hopes to dampen Russian opposition, but that Moscow would not be allowed to derail the project if no agreement is reached with the Kremlin, according to the paper.
"We think there is a benefit to cooperating with Russia; we think the threat is one that they face as well as one that we face," Eric S. Edelman, the undersecretary of Defense for policy, was quoted as saying.
"That being said, I don't think if, for some reason, we're unable to reach a commonly agreed way ahead, that we would want to accede to Russia being able to dictate what we do bilaterally with other countries," he said.
Edelman had just returned from making the case for the system in European capitals last week.
The missile defense system, which would be operated by US soldiers stationed in the Eastern European countries, has become one of the thorniest points of contention between Russia and the United States, and rhetoric has escalated since December, when Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates gave the go-ahead to seek formal negotiations, the paper said.
The Bush administration has been pushing for a European site to expand its missile defense system for several years as a hedge against Iran. The current US system, with interceptor missiles based in Alaska and California, is considered useful mainly against North Korea.
The missile defense project, however, is not popular in European countries which have voiced fear that it could spark a new arms race. Poland, ordinarily a staunch US ally, is concerned that the plan would spur Russia to upgrade and reconfigure troop placements and missile systems.
Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has warned of an "inevitable arms race" if the US proceeds. Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, the chief of Russia's missile forces, also warned that Moscow could resume building intermediate and short-range missiles to target Poland and the Czech Republic if those nations agreed to allow bases on their territory.
(Xinhua News Agency April 5, 2007)