BRUSSELS - European NATO allies are to urge President Barack Obama to remove all remaining US nuclear weapons from European soil, as domestic pressure grows to rid its soil of outdated Cold War-era aerial bombs.
Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Norway will call "in the coming weeks" for more than 200 American warheads, mostly stocked in Italy and Turkey, to be taken back, a spokesman for Prime Minister Yves Leterme told AFP.
A joint proposal by the five NATO members will demand "that nuclear arms on European soil belonging to other NATO member states are removed," Dominique Dehaene said.
Only the United States has nuclear arms stored in other NATO member states in Europe, he added. The proposal does not refer to the distinct, and more modern British and French nuclear arsenals.
"It's a question of launching the debate at the heart of NATO," Dehaene stressed, underlining it would form part of broader disarmament talks also focused on conventional weapons.
Former NATO chief Willy Claes and three more senior Belgian political figures urged such a call in Friday's Belgian press, citing "Obama's pledge to work to eliminate all nuclear weapons."
A statement from Leterme stressed that "Belgium is in favour of a world without nuclear weapons and advocates this position at the heart of NATO," in preparation for a New York conference in May on global nuclear arms non-proliferation efforts.
Leterme said an initiative would be launched under a strategic NATO rethink due to be adopted by leaders of NATO countries in Lisbon in November.
Spokesman Dehaene said that plan includes addressing what to do about some 220 aerial atomic bombs held on military bases in Belgium, Germany, Italy and Turkey.
According to experts, Italy and Turkey house about 90 of these nuclear warheads each.
There are about 20 each in Germany, where 130 atomic bombs were withdrawn in 2004, and Belgium.
These bombs are considered by military experts to be outdated because they are essentially dropped by pilots.
"The Cold War is over. It's time to adapt our nuclear policy to the new circumstances," wrote Claes, fellow former Belgian foreign minister Louis Michel and former prime ministers Jean-Luc Dehaene and Guy Verhofstadt.
"The US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe have lost all military importance," the four said in joint statements which appeared in several Belgian daily newspapers
It was agreed at the end of last year, after Germany sought the withdrawal of the warheads there, that all calls for the removal of these weapons be done on a NATO-wide basis, and not unilaterally.
Allied diplomats stressed that the removal of these arms from Europe would neither represent the end of the US nuclear deterrent on behalf of its allies, nor the denuclearisation of NATO.
The call coincides with a new threat by Russia to base missiles in its western exclave Kaliningrad, which borders the European Union, amid growing controversy over a new US missile shield plan.
Moscow in September said it scrapped plans to place short-range Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad after the United States shelved a controversial missile shield plan for central Europe.
But it expressed concern after Romania said this month it would hold talks with Washington on hosting US missile interceptors and Bulgaria showed an interest in taking part in a US missile shield.