U.S. Intensifies Campaign For Missile Defense System In Eastern Europe

Friday, March 23rd 2007, 9:02 am
By: News On 6

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ U.S. officials are intensifying their campaign to build support in European capitals for plans to deploy a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic _ a proposal that Russia contends could touch off a new arms race.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mark Pekala was in Vienna on Friday for two days of meetings with ambassadors to the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, hoping to win greater regional backing for the plan.

Pekala's visit follows a stop in Warsaw earlier this week by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried, intended to reassure Polish officials that the bases are designed to enhance European security and in no way threaten Russia. Moscow says that placing the systems so close to its border could diminish Russia's nuclear deterrent.

Recent polls suggest most Poles oppose the idea of hosting 10 interceptor missiles that Washington contends would serve as a shield to counteract Iran's potential future missile capabilities. Czechs, meanwhile, have staged several small but boisterous protests against U.S. plans to station an accompanying radar system in their country.

Lawmakers in Ukraine were the latest to balk, adopting a resolution Thursday in parliament that declared the system a threat to Ukraine's national security.

U.S. officials had gone to the former Soviet republic last week to explain what they insist are the strategic advantages of the system.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency and chairs the Group of Eight industrialized nations, urged the U.S. this week to count the political and diplomatic costs before pushing ahead with the plan.

Steinmeier warned of the potential for ``a new Cold War between the USA and Russia, even if only conducted in words,'' and suggested that Washington consider teaming up with Moscow on a possible joint missile defense.