Published 10:41 March 3, 2007
Updated 10:41 March 3, 2007
German Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung on March 2 said US plans for a European-based anti-missile defence system should become part of a wider NATO framework, a move which could ease current Russia’s security concerns over the initiative.
“I think the development of such a system should be integrated into the NATO military alliance,” Jung told reporters at the end of a meeting of European Union defence ministers in Wiesbaden, central Germany.
Jung said Russia’s worries about the US plan should continue to be discussed as part of NATO’s dialogue with Russia, set up to discuss security and defence issues between the alliance and Moscow. “It is good for us to work in a spirit of partnership with Russia,” said Jung. Germany is current president of the 27-nation NATO alliance.
The German defence chief’s comments reflect European concerns that US plans to establish an anti-missile system in the Czech Republic and Poland are further straining European and US relations with Russia. Washington has repeatedly said that the plan is directed at so- called “rogue states” like Iran and North Korea.
However, Russian President Vladimir Putin last month denounced the initiative as a threat to Moscow’s security and said Russia would counter the defence shield with a similar system. EU chief diplomat Javier Solana said every EU country was free to decide whether to accept the US system.
“Poland and the Czech Republic do not represent a threat to anybody,” said Solana. While it was “questionable” whether the EU faced any security threat today, the situation could change in future, said Solana.
He added, however, that the bloc was “not considering the establishment” of a similar anti-missile system. “We must do our utmost … to have good, solid relations with Russia,” said Solana, adding that the international community needed to discuss issues like Iran’s nuclear programme and Middle East violence with Moscow. Russia is also a leading supplier of natural gas to the energy- hungry EU.
Earlier, a top US military defence chief urged European countries to join the controversial missile defence system to ward off a “serious threat” from countries such as Iran and North Korea.
Lieutenant General Henry Obering, director of the United States Missile Defence Agency, told a high-powered meeting of security and defence experts in London that it would be “prudent” for European countries to join a US-backed anti-ballistic defence system, also known as “Son of Star Wars.”
In a keynote speech to the Royal United Services Institute in London, Obering said more than 20 countries, “many of whom are not friendly to the US or her allies,” currently had ballistic missiles.
“There is no defence in Europe right now against long-range, or even the top-end-of-medium-range missiles that could reach London or Paris or other European capitals,” he said.
“We are aware of their current threat, but we need to be worried about what Iran or North Korea will be doing in three to four years’ time,” said Obering. He said it was known that Iran had a “very aggressive test programme,” and the US believed the country would have a long-range capacity by 2015.
John Rood, Assistant Secretary of State at the US Bureau of International Security and Non-Proliferation, told the same conference that the US was “deeply disappointed with the recent Cold War rhetoric” coming from Russia over America’s negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic about building missile interceptors in central Europe.
“We will continue to talk to Russia about these issues and I think everybody understands that with a growing Iranian missile threat, which is quite pronounced, there needs to be ways to deal with that problem.”
“We do not view Russia as an enemy or adversary and any missile defence capabilities employed in Europe would simply not be directed against Russia,” said Rood.