Russia warns US over defense deal with Spain

Russia said yesterday moves by the United States to create a NATO-wide missile shield could undermine its security, ramping up criticism of the project following a new deal that will see U.S. anti-missile warships deployed on the Spanish coast
Spain’s PM Zapatero, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen and U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta shake hands after joint news conference in Brussels. REUTERS photo

Spain’s PM Zapatero, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen and U.S. Defense Secretary Panetta shake hands after joint news conference in Brussels. REUTERS photo

The agreement with Spain “cannot fail to cause concern,” Russia Foreign Ministry said in a statement. It said the deployment would represent a “significant increase in U.S. anti-missile capabilities in the European zone”. The criticism clouds prospects for cooperation between the former Cold War superpowers on the European missile shield.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan calls for an initial deployment of ship-based anti-ballistic missiles in the Mediterranean followed by ground-based systems in Romania, Poland and Turkey. The system, which is expected to become fully operational in 2018, is designed to protect European NATO states and the U. S. from missile attack from countries such as Iran, which is developing longer-range missiles.

Obama pleased the Kremlin by scrapping his predecessor’s plan for longer-range interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar installation in the Czech Republic, a move that helped to improve U.S.-Russia ties. Moscow, however, says Obama’s version could undermine Russia’s security if it becomes capable of shooting down Russian nuclear missiles and has warned of a new arms race if its concerns are not dispelled.

“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. Russia is demanding a legally binding guarantee that the system would not be aimed against Russia, something the U.S. is unlikely to provide because of strong opposition in Washington to any set restrictions on missile defense.

The U.S. ambassador to Russia expressed confidence this week that Russia and NATO would reach an agreement on missile defense cooperation — a goal laid out by the former foes in November 2010 — in time for an alliance summit next May. But Russia warned that U.S. deployment plans such as the agreement with Spain were undermining chances for a deal. The Foreign Ministry said it saw no sign the U.S. was prepared to address its desire for binding guarantees that the NATO system would not be a threat to Russia. “On the contrary, we are seeing an ongoing effort to broaden the areas of deployment of U.S. anti-missile facilities,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Allies debate when to end Libya campaign

NATO defense ministers discussed the prospects of successfully wrapping up the Libya mission during two days of talks in Brussels, with officials insisting the campaign will continue as long as Gadhafi forces pose a threat to civilians. With Moammar Gadhafi diehards surrounded by the new leadership’s forces in Sirte and Bani Walid, and the fallen Libyan leader in hiding, diplomats are optimistic that the six-month-old air war could end in a matter of weeks. French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said the airstrikes will not cease until all remaining pockets of resistance are suppressed and the new government asks for them to end. Although the former rebels now control most of Libya, some regions remain under control of pro-Gadhafi forces. These include Sirte on the Mediterranean coast, the city of Bani Walid and parts of the south.”Sirte has an extremely symbolic value, but it’s not all of Libya,” said Longuet said. NATO has carried out more than 9,300 airstrikes against Gadhafi’s forces since the campaign started in March. The military alliance has been criticized for allegedly overstepping U.N. Security Council resolution that created a no-fly zone and authorized the protection of civilians caught up in the fighting.

Discussions at the ministers’ meeting also focused on Afghanistan. Success in Afghanistan, a war marking its 10th anniversary today, also depends on the ability of local forces to ensure security for the population under a NATO plan to withdraw foreign combat troops by 2014. “Transition is on track,” Rasmussen said, “and it will not be derailed.

Although outnumbered, the Taliban have mounted a series of high-profile attacks that have brought into question NATO’s claim that it has the upper hand in the war and that the bloodshed is decreasing.

On the first day of the meeting, ministers discussed plans to cooperate more closely and pool their resources in order to make up for the shortfalls that have plagued the alliance’s operations in Libya and Afghanistan. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned NATO allies that they should not rest on any laurels from the success of the ongoing military campaign in Libya, and that a cash-strapped America cannot always foot the bill when the alliance falls short.The operation revealed embarrassing gaps in European military abilities that were mostly filled by the United States, and shortfalls in such basic supplies as ammunition. Meanwhile, Balkan countries ravaged by war in the 1990s are uniting to deploy a joint military training team to Afghanistan as part of the NATO force. Defense ministers of Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Slovenia agreed yesterday on the details of the mission, which will train the nascent Afghan military police.

Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News

Thursday, October 6, 2011