Romania backs US missile shield plan


Romania president Traian Basescu said the country’s top defence body has today approved a US proposal to place anti-ballistic interceptors in Romania as part of a revamped US missile shield.

President Basescu gave few details on the project, but it appeared to be part of the revamped approach taken by US president Barack Obama since he scrapped a Bush-era plan for a radar site and interceptor rockets in the Czech Republic and Poland.

The missile shield has angered eastern Europe's former Cold War master Russia, who sees it as a threat to its own nuclear arsenal and has bristled at what it says is meddling by Washington in its sphere of influence.

President Basescu said the Supreme Defence Council -- Romania's top military and security authority -- had approved a US proposal to include Romania in a system against "potential attacks with ballistic missiles or medium-range rockets".

"Terrestrial interceptors will be located inside the national territory," he said, adding that the U.S. facilities were expected to become operational in 2015.

The announcement was unexpected, and follows concern from fellow ex-communist Nato members Poland and the Czech Republic, both of which were disappointed by Obama's decision to scrap the Bush plan, which did not cover the Balkans.

President Basescu said participation of Romania, a European Union and Nato member of 22 million perched in the southeast corner of the continent, was not meant to threaten Moscow.

"The new system is not against Russia. I want to categorically stress this, Romania does not host a system against Russia, but against other threats," he said.

Unlike some other EU states, popular support for US military policy is very high in Romania. It hosts a small US base and training facilities, part of a Pentagon shift from large Cold War-era centres in western Europe towards smaller installations nearer hot spots such as the Middle East.

President Obama's revamped plan, unveiled last September in Washington, includes land-and sea-based missile defence systems in and around the Gulf to defend against what it says is a growing Iranian missile threat.

His administration argues the plan addresses those threats more effectively than the Bush plan, although it has drawn ire from Tehran, which accuses Washington of stirring up anti-Iranian sentiment.