Germany, Italy protest at U.S. axing of missile defense funding
MUNICH (Reuters) - Germany and Italy have told the United States they expect it to fulfill its obligations after the U.S. Congress blocked funding for a missile defense program involving the three countries, Germany said on Saturday.
A defense bill passed by Congress in December prohibited a final U.S. payment of $400.9 million for development of the Medium Extended Air and Missile Defense System, known as MEADS, which is being developed by Lockheed Martin with partners in Italy and Germany. U.S. lawmakers said Washington has no plans to produce the system.
The United States, Italy and Germany have spent about $4 billion to develop MEADS over the past decade as a successor to the Patriot missile defense system.
"I expect the United States to stick to their word and fulfill the MEADS contract," German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters at the Munich security conference.
He said that, together with the Italian defense minister, he had sent a "pretty tough" letter to U.S. authorities driving this point home.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was doing all he could to ensure the United States fulfilled its commitments, de Maiziere said, although he acknowledged that the chances of the United States fulfilling the agreement had deteriorated.
Congress defied President Barack Obama's administration by axing funding for the program in a $633 billion bill authorizing funding for the U.S. military in fiscal year 2013.
The White House raised concerns about the bill before its approval, warning that a ban on MEADS funding could harm Washington's broader relationship with its allies.
Lockheed, the Pentagon and officials in Italy and Germany hope that congressional appropriators, who control the actual funding for arms programs, will still allow the Pentagon to fulfill its final funding obligations for the program.
Otherwise, they argue, the U.S. government may face termination fees nearly equal to the money required to finish the system, and could lose access to the technologies developed under the international program.
The Lockheed Martin-led consortium continues to work towards a fourth quarter 2013 flight test to prove the MEADS missile defense system can intercept a ballistic missile.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, writing by Adrian Croft; Editing by Jason Webb)