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Russia Assails U.S. Plan to Send Aegis Ships to Spain

(Oct. 6) -Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero, left, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, center, and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speak to reporters in Brussels on Wednesday. An Obama administration plan to station Aegis ballistic missile defense warships along the Spanish coastline received sharp criticism from Russia on Thursday (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo). (Oct. 6) -Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero, left, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, center, and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speak to reporters in Brussels on Wednesday. An Obama administration plan to station Aegis ballistic missile defense warships along the Spanish coastline received sharp criticism from Russia on Thursday (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo).

Russia on Thursday castigated a new Obama administration decision to dock warships equipped with Aegis antimissile technology in Spain, saying it jeopardized chances to reach an accommodation on missile defense, Reuters reported (see GSN, Oct. 5).

The decision to deploy vessels equipped with Aegis ballistic missile defenses to Spain's Naval Station Rota "cannot fail to cause concern," according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Russia is engaged in talks with the United States and NATO on collaborating in their development of a European missile shield. Moscow, though, said it worries the alliance plan would be aimed at countering its strategic nuclear deterrent. The Kremlin has threatened to expand its nuclear arsenal if its fears are not addressed.

"If events continue to develop this way ... the opportunity to turn missile defense from an area of confrontation into a subject of cooperation will be lost," the Foreign Ministry said in a prepared statement.

Moscow is angry with Washington for reaching agreements with Poland, Romania and Turkey to host missile shield components on their territories while talks with Russia are still taking place.

Russia said it saw no indications the Obama administration was ready to respond to Moscow's call for a legally enforceable pledge that the European missile shield would not be aimed at Russian nuclear weapons.

"On the contrary, we are seeing an ongoing effort to broaden the areas of deployment of U.S. antimissile facilities," the ministry said (Steve Gutterman, Reuters I, Oct. 6).

At a joint press event with U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero on Wednesday hailed the decision to station four Aegis-equipped destroyers in Spain , Reuters reported.

"This commitment to collective defense is also a guarantee to the defense of Spain and Spaniards," Zapatero said at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Panetta said Madrid's acceptance of the cruisers was "critical" to allied plans to establish the missile shield and demonstrated Washington's ongoing support for Europe's defense even in the face of substantial U.S. fiscal constraints.

"This announcement should send a very strong signal that the United States is still continuing to invest in this alliance and that we are committed to our defense relationship with Europe," Panetta told reporters.

"The United States is fully committed to building a missile defense capability for the full coverage and protection of all of our NATO European populations, their territories and their forces against the growing threat posed by ballistic missiles," the secretary said.

A high-ranking U.S. official said basing the Aegis ships out of Rota would mean fewer sea-based assets would be required to establish the missile shield. Rota is not far from Cadiz, on Spain's southwestern Atlantic coastline.

"You probably need 10 of these ships if they were based in the eastern U.S. to be able to ... transit across the ocean back and forth to patrol in the [Mediterranean Sea]," the defense official said.

He said the Defense Department was intent on having a minimum of one Aegis vessel continuously present in the eastern Mediterranean.

Rasmussen said he "would not be surprised" if new declarations related to NATO missile defense were made over the next weeks and months.

A high-ranking envoy to the alliance this week said the Netherlands had declared its intention to enhance radar systems that would supply NATO with missile threat alerts (see GSN, Oct. 3; Brunnstrom/Alexander, Reuters II, Oct. 5).

NATO defense chiefs were scheduled to discuss Russia's demand for a guarantee on the missile shield during a meeting on Wednesday and Thursday in Brussels, ITAR-Tass reported.

Rasmussen has said he thinks the Western military bloc and Moscow can reach an agreement on missile defense by next May's planned NATO summit in Chicago.

Russian Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin "strongly" advised the defense ministers that Russia required "strong guarantees that the European missile defense machine that is being created will not be directed against the allies or partners" (ITAR-Tass, Oct. 5).

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