WASHINGTON Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday signed an agreement to base anti-missile interceptors in Romania under a NATO missile defense plan that has angered Russia.
Clinton signed the agreement with Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi and said the United States expected to deploy the interceptor missiles at a Romanian air force base in approximately four years.
"The agreement we have just signed will position Romania as a central player in NATO's evolving missile defense capability," Clinton said, noting that the agreement must still be ratified by the Senate.
"With this missile agreement we are jointly building a safer, more secure future for us all."
The Romania deal is part of a larger NATO missile defense plan for Europe that has caused friction with Moscow, which wants a bigger role.
At a NATO summit last November, the allies agreed to develop a new missile defense shield linking systems in the United States and Europe to protect member states against long-range attacks from states such as Iran.
The plans involve the stationing of ship-based interceptors in the Mediterranean beginning this year, followed by land-based interceptors in Romania from 2015 and in Poland from 2018.
Russia has agreed to cooperate on the initiative but disagrees over its implementation, saying it should be a single integrated shield rather than two separate defense systems.
The U.S.-Romania deal calls for the United States to construct, maintain and operate a facility at the Deveselu Air Base near Caracal in southern Romania for the land-based SM-3 ballistic missile defense system.
The facility is expected to house between 150 and 200 U.S. military personnel as well as government and civilian contractors.
A State Department factsheet underscored that the SM-3 interceptors are for defensive purposes only and carry no explosive warheads, operating instead by colliding with and destroying incoming missiles.
(Editing by Eric Beech)