LONDON - Prime Minister Tony Blair will allow US missiles to be deployed in Britain as part of Washington's controversial national defence shield, the Daily Mail reported Friday.
Without giving sources, it said Blair would agree to the idea in principle when he meets new US President George W. Bush in Washington late next week.
Separately however, in a flurry of interviews on his final day in office, Britain's chief of defence staff warned of a "doomsday scenario" posed by the national missile defence (NMD) scheme.
Bush made support for NMD one his key campaign pledges, but it is strongly opposed by Russia, China and several European countries including France and Germany.
A Greenpeace activist protests against new plans of "Star wars" outside of the presidential palace in Mexico City, February 15, 2001. Demonstrators called on the Mexican President Vicente Fox to denounce the new missile defence shield program when U.S. President George W. Bush visits Mexico on Friday. Fox will meet with Bush in his hometown of San Cristobal de los Ranchos, where drug trafficking, immigration,energy and economic development will dominate the agenda. REUTERS/Henry Romero
Britain has not given an official position yet -- although analysts say it is merely playing for time before agreeing -- but the issue will come up when Blair meets Bush next Friday.
According to the conservative Daily Mail, Blair will tell the president he can count on British support for the NMD strategy, which would mean upgrading a radar tracking station at Fylingdales in northern England.
The project is designed to protect America from attack by "rogue" nations by tracking hostile missiles and shooting them down before they hit US soil.
The Daily Mail said senior cabinet ministers believed Britain would become a target, and so wanted the United States to allow a "forward deployment" of some missiles on British soil or in surrounding waters.
Such a move threatens to divide Britain's ruling Labour Party and spark a split with the rest of Europe.
Meanwhile the outgoing chief of defence staff General Sir Charles Guthrie warned in his interviews that NMD could ignite Russian nationalism and open a deep rift between Washington and European capitals.
"What really worries me, and it would be terrible, is a doomsday scenario. If the Russians became more nationalistic and the Europeans and the Americans take a different view (on NMD), then there would be a wedge between us."
But he said that, while NMD was "bloody expensive and extremely difficult to use," it was an inevitability because the United States was determined to have it.
He added: "It is extremely important the Americans talk to the Europeans, the Russians and the Chinese. They have got to have a dialogue."
Defence expert Paul Beaver said Britain would support NMD due to its close ties with the United States.
"In the end the UK will support NMD, irrespective of the government," said Beaver. "The UK will support the NMD and I think they haven't got any choice. We are so linked to the US."
Copyright © 2001 AFP