Washington - US President George W Bush said Tuesday there was an "urgent" need to deploy a missile-defence system to Eastern Europe because of Iran's growing ballistic missile capability. "Iran is pursuing the technology that could be used to produce nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles of increasing range that could deliver them," Bush said."The need for missile defence in Europe is real, and I believe it's urgent," Bush said in a speech at the National Defence University in Washington.
Bush has aggressively pursued a long-range ballistic-missile- defence system. His administration announced plans earlier this year to deploy 10 missile interceptors to Poland and a radar tracking site to the Czech Republic.
The controversial plans have angered Moscow, which views the system as a threat to its nuclear deterrent and has not ruled out targeting the potential bases in Eastern Europe.
Bush cited US intelligence that Iran could have a ballistic missile capable of reaching Europe by 2015. Russian President Vladimir Putin has played down the Iranian threat and has questioned western claims that the Islamic state is developing nuclear weapons.
Putin has proposed using a Soviet era radar site in Azerbaijan and a facility in southern Russia. Bush is open to the offer but not as a substitute for the Czech and Polish locations. Instead he sees it as an opportunity for the two sides to work together against a common threat.
"We believe these sites could be included as part of a wider threat monitoring system that could lead to an unprecedented level of strategic cooperation between our two countries," Bush said.
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Bush said the Eastern European sites are too small to endanger Russia's vast nuclear arsenal.
"The missile defences we will deploy are intended to deter countries who would threaten us with ballistic missiles," Bush said. "We do not consider Russia such a country."
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, in Prague for talks with Czech leaders about the plans, said Washington is open to allowing a Russian presence at the bases to ease Moscow's opposition. He also said the United States would consider building the system but not activate it until "concrete proof" of a threat emerged.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice proposed the idea earlier this month at a meeting in Moscow attended by Gates and their Russian counterparts.
Gates was speaking at a press conference with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who reacted coolly to the idea of allowing the Russian military to return to his country. US officials hope to have negotiations soon completed with Poland and the Czech Republic in time to have the system in place by 2013.
© 2007 Earth Times