NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen addresses a press conference in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, Oct. 23, 2009. NATO defense ministers gave broad support on Friday to the United States revised plans for a missile defense shield in Europe during the Informal Meeting of Nato Defense Ministers held from Oct. 22 to 23 in Bratislava. [Zeng Yi/Xinhua]
NATO defense ministers gathering in Bratislava Friday gave broad support to the Obama administration's revised plans for a missile defense shield in Europe.
"Ministers welcomed the fact that the new U.S. approach puts European missile defense more in a NATO context," said NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
He told a news conference that NATO leaders are expected to agree at a summit in Portugal next year to sign the missile defense plan, making it an alliance mission.
Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico (R) addresses a news conference in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, on Oct. 22, 2009. Robert Fico said on Thursday that as long as he works as prime minister, the United States will not be allowed to deploy the anti-missile system in Slovakia. [Zeng Yi/Xinhua]
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also said he had found "broad allied support" for the plan, adding the revised missile shield would make it easier for NATO allies and possibly Russia to join in.
The possibility of cooperation with Russia marks a major shift from Moscow's forceful opposition to the previous missile defense plans drawn up by the Bush administration that would have sited U.S. interceptor missiles in Poland and a high-tech radar base in the Czech Republic.
Russia viewed the proposed bases in the former Warsaw Pact nations as a threat to its nuclear deterrent, even though Washington insisted they were aimed at a potential danger from Iran.
Obama's team says their plan announced last month reflects new technological advances and a revised assessment of the threat from Iran.
"The changes proposed will provide for a more capable and flexible missile defense system sooner than was the case under the previous plan and with a greater capacity to adapt as threats evolve," Gates told a news conference.
Russia has reacted positively to the Obama proposals which would lead to a phased introduction of missile defenses, starting with the deployment of interceptors in Southeastern Europe within the next couple of years to protect against a possible attack from the Middle East.
It foresees the placing of defenses against longer range missiles by 2015.
Gates also said a radar station in southern Russia could make a useful contribution to the U.S.-NATO shield.
"It would be much easier to tie it in to Russian capabilities should they choose to join us," Gates said.
NATO is already working with Russia to develop a short-range battlefield missile defense system.