US Presses Allies on Missile Shield

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Agence France-Presse

US Presses Allies on Missile Shield

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert Gates made the plea, echoed by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, amid French reservations about the anti-missile system. (AFP)

BRUSSELS – The United States urged NATO allies Thursday to
invest in a missile shield and avoid harmful budget cuts at a rare
meeting of defence and foreign ministers clouded by the war in
Afghanistan.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defence Secretary Robert
Gates made the plea, echoed by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh
Rasmussen, amid French reservations about the anti-missile system.

"The studies have been done, the data are well-known and the
affordability is clear," Gates told alliance ministers. "It is time for a
decision."

The ministers gathered at NATO headquarters to discuss a new
"strategic concept" that will shape the 28-nation alliance's vision for
the next decade to face new threats including missiles from "rogue"
states and cyber assaults.

Gates has put the price tag to link NATO members into a common
anti-missile network at between 85 million and 100 million euros (120
million and 140 million dollars). Rasmussen says it would cost less than
200 million euros.

Rasmussen expressed optimism that the missile shield would be
endorsed by NATO leaders at a summit in Lisbon on November 19-20, saying
it was well on the way to a "consensus" following the ministerial
meeting.

French Defence Minister Herve Morin, however, expressed his
"reservations" about the plan, saying Paris wanted more details about
how much the system would cost and how it would work.

But he hinted that France would not block the missile shield plan when NATO leaders meet in Lisbon.

France, a nuclear-armed power, was also at odds with Germany, which
backs the missile shield plan but is also pushing for nuclear
disarmament, diplomats said.

"We all agree that we need an anti-missile shield if we look at the
threats of today and tomorrow," German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu
Guttenberg told reporters. "We are very close to an agreement."

Clinton said the draft strategic concept recognises the need for
NATO "to remain a nuclear alliance as long as nuclear weapons exist" and
at the same time highlights President Barack Obama's goal of a
nuclear-free world.

Although Afghanistan was not officially on the agenda, ministers
discussed the nine-year-old campaign which involves 150,000
international troops.

"Both Bob and I and a lot of our counterparts here in Brussels have
both seen and received reports of progress that we are making on the
ground," Clinton told a news conference.

Rasmussen also said the NATO-led force was willing to provide
"practical assistance" to reconciliation efforts between the Afghan
government and the Taliban but ruled out halting military operations
against the insurgency.

NATO leaders are expected to endorse at a summit in Lisbon next
month plans to begin the handover of security responsibility to Afghan
forces by July 2011.

They will also sign off on the strategic concept, replacing a
document written in 1999, two years before the September 11 attacks on
the United States that sparked the war in Afghanistan..

The 11-page mission statement, drafted by Rasmussen, has not been
made public but it is expected to touch on 21st century threats
including cyber attacks, missiles from "rogue" states, terrorism and
Somali piracy.

While Gates acknowledged fiscal pressures on defence budgets across
the alliance, he warned against cuts that could weaken NATO and even
leave it crippled.

"But as nations deal with their economic problems, we must guard
against the hollowing out of alliance military capability by spending
reductions that cut too far into muscle," he said.

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