NATO Stands by U.S. Missile Shield

BRUSSELS — NATO reaffirmed on Monday its backing for a planned U.S. missile shield in Europe after French President Nicolas Sarkozy said it would bring no extra security on the continent.

NATO leaders, including Sarkozy, welcomed U.S. plans to deploy the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic as a "substantial contribution to the protection of allies" at a summit in Bucharest last April.

Washington says the shield will protect the United States and its allies from attack by "rogue" states such as Iran and North Korea and rejects Russia's argument that it is a direct threat to its territory.

But after talks with President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday, Sarkozy said that deploying the U.S. anti-missile system would do "nothing to bring security and complicates things."

NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said the alliance's position had not changed.

"The decision taken at Bucharest is very clear, and we are continuing to analyze different options relating to missile defense," she said, referring to options such as a proposal for NATO to complement the U.S. shield with additional components aimed at reinforcing its coverage of southeastern Europe.

At a European Union summit with Russia on Friday, Sarkozy said he had won Russian backing for talks on security in Europe next year and urged a freeze in missile deployments by Moscow and the United States until then.

Medvedev has threatened to deploy missiles in Kaliningrad, near NATO's borders in Europe, if Washington goes ahead with the system.

Moscow hopes U.S. President-elect Barack Obama will be less enthusiastic about the project than President George W. Bush.

Russian officials say they have been encouraged by early signals, and in Washington over the weekend Medvedev suggested that Moscow might accept something less than cancellation of the shield.

He said it might be possible to agree on a global anti-missile system or to find a solution on the existing programs that would suit Moscow.

The NATO spokeswoman had no comment on Sarkozy's call for international talks on European security in mid-2009.

That call from Sarkozy followed a Russian proposal for Europe to work with Russia on a new security pact. Moscow says Washington has forfeited its place at the heart of the world order, but some see the Russian plan as a threat to NATO.

Sarkozy's remarks were immediately questioned by the Czech Republic, which is due to host a tracking radar as part of the proposed U.S. missile shield.

Prague, which takes over the EU presidency from France in January, said Sarkozy had no mandate for his remarks.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has called for a report for a NATO summit in April 2009 on options to expand missile defense to areas of NATO not covered by the U.S. plan.