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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Sticks to Shield Plan

ReutersDefense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, left, listening to a speech during a NATO-Russia meeting Thursday in Brussels.
BRUSSELS -- NATO defense ministers on Thursday welcomed Russia's offer to cooperate on using an Azeri radar base but said the radar would complement, not replace, a U.S. missile shield in Central Europe.

The ministers also ordered NATO military experts to draw up plans for a possible short-range missile defense system to protect nations on the alliance's southern flank that would be left exposed by the proposed U.S. shield.

A final decision on building the NATO system is expected at an April 2008 alliance summit in Romania, but the agreement by the ministers to start the study factors the U.S. proposal into NATO planning for the first time.

It also reflects a growing acceptance of Washington's plans among the 26 allies, despite initial skepticism in some European nations and virulent opposition from Russia.

"The NATO road map on missile defense is now clear. It's practical and it's agreed by all," said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO's secretary-general.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking behind closed doors at the NATO meeting, said the Azeri radar offer was a basis for discussion, but Washington would press ahead with its plans to install 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a main radar base in the Czech Republic, diplomats said.

"I don't think it can replace the American proposal, but I think it can be part of the missile defense," Danish Defense Minister Soeren Gade told reporters later.

De Hoop Scheffer said talks Thursday with Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov had "not entirely" clarified how Russia envisioned cooperation on the Azeri base or overcome Moscow's opposition to the missile defense plan.

"We have some hard nuts to crack," he said at a news conference.

The NATO ministers on Thursday also agreed to step up work to prevent attacks on alliance members' computer systems, following a sustained cyber-assault on Estonian web sites at the height of a diplomatic dispute with Russia in May.