Spain to host ship for NATO missile shield: officials
Spain has agreed to bolster NATO's planned missile defence system by hosting a US naval ship equipped with interceptors designed to knock out incoming missiles, officials said Wednesday.
The Aegis-equipped ship will be deployed at the US naval base in Rota in southern Spain, a senior US defense official said.
The move will "give more weight" to the missile shield project and cut costs as the naval ship will not have to transit the Atlantic back to US ports, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The arrangement follows a pivotal agreement last month with Turkey to host a sophisticated US radar and deals with Romania and Poland to allow the deployment of land-based SM-3 interceptors.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen were to officially announce the deal at NATO headquarters late Wednesday.
Leaders of the 28-member NATO alliance gave their backing last year for the Europe-wide ballistic missile shield -- which US officials say is aimed at thwarting missile threats from Iran.
Rasmussen told reporters after a meeting of NATO defence ministers that he expected more announcements in the coming months, adding he hoped the anti-missile system would be "fully operational by 2018."
The system, known as the European Phased Adaptive Approach, initially will employ Aegis ships with anti-missile weaponry and eventually expand to include land-based interceptors in Romania by 2015 and Poland by 2018.
One American warship, the USS Monterey, is currently assigned to the missile defence mission, patrolling the Mediterrean.
Under an agreement with Romania, a total of 24 SM-3 interceptors will be deployed at a former airbase in southern Romania, which will host a maximum of 500 US troops.
The United States originally planned to install an anti-missile shield in Poland and the neighbouring Czech Republic. But that plan, which angered Russia as it saw itself as the target for the system, was scrapped by US President Barack Obama in September 2009.
Washington has since reworked the scheme and signed a new treaty with Moscow on reducing strategic nuclear weapons.
© 2011 AFP