US encouraging Russian support in missile defence
The US wants Russia to participate in plans to field a missile-defence system in Eastern Europe to guard against a potential threat from Iran, the US general in charge of the programme said.
"We are very open to Russian participation and invitation into collaboration on missile defence in the broader sense and on any level, all the way down to specifics in terms of potentially sharing data and radar data information," said Lieutenant General Henry A Obering, head of the Pentagon's Missile Defence Agency.
In an attempt to smooth over an issue that has strained US-Russian relations, US President George W Bush spoke on Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin and pledged to improve communication with the Kremlin about Washington's missile-defence plans.
US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried recently returned from a trip to Europe to secure support for plans to install 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic.
The plans have angered Russia, which views the missile-defence system as another sign of NATO encroachment toward its borders, and created alarm in Western Europe that it could spark a Cold War-style arms race. The US insists that the system poses no threat to Russia and is essential for broader European security against a long-range ballistic missile threat from Iran.
"The notion that somehow missile defence has to be seen as part of an emerging arms race between the US and Russia, which is some of the odd commentary I hear from some Europeans, has no relationship to reality," Fried told reporters.
The US hopes to have all 10 interceptors installed by 2013, if given a green light from the Polish and Czech governments within a year.
The US has agreed to the request by NATO partners to get the alliance more involved in the process and address concerns raised by some NATO members.
Germany, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, has been trying to mediate differences within Europe over the US plans, but polls show most of the German population opposes a missile-defence shield in the neighbouring countries.
Fried said that he finds the public debate in Germany "somewhat exotic." He challenged polls in Germany that show Germans believe the United States is a greater threat than Iran and oppose missile defence.
"I'm aware of the polls. I wonder how comfortable Germany would be in a bilateral security relationship with Iran, okay?" he asked. "I don't even think that many people who say that really mean it."