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France backs NATO missile defence system: source

PARIS (Reuters) - France supports a NATO-wide missile defense system and is willing to help fund it, a source in the French president’s office said Friday, dispelling earlier talk that the country was skeptical.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said earlier there was broad agreement among member states about the need for a missile defense system, which will be discussed at a summit in Lisbon on November 19-20.

France had previously expressed doubt.

“France is not against. It is frankly for the system. It complements the nuclear deterrent, which is irreplaceable,” said the source, who requested anonymity. “We are ready to provide financial help as well as technological help.”

Rasmussen wants allies to agree to invest 200 million euros ($282 million) to link their missile defense capabilities with interceptors that the United States plans to deploy in Europe.

France, which had earlier questioned details of the plan, was in favor of U.S. proposals for the shield although it was still too early to discuss who would control it, he added.

“(U.S.) President (Barack) Obama’s project is more realistic. It will start slowly and cost less,” he said.

French Defense Minister Herve Morin has hinted the project would be approved in Lisbon, but also compared it to the Maginot Line of fixed gun emplacements and fortifications that failed to prevent Germany’s invasion of France during World War Two.

Speaking at the Institute of Foreign Relations in Paris on Friday, Rasmussen said the anti-missile system made perfect sense at a time when governments are facing harsh austerity measures.

“It’s a reality that governments are forced to adapt their budgets and when they make cuts in education and social welfare it’s impossible to not cut defense expenditure,” the former Danish prime minister said. “This (system) seems affordable. It ensures a lot of security at a good price.”


The French presidential source said the shield was designed to defend the 28-member alliance from an Iranian missile attack -- not one coming from Russia.

“For us this anti-missile system is to face Iran and (similar) threats. It’s as much for Russia as it is for the EU and the United States,” he said.

Leaders of France, Germany and Russia will meet next week in the northern French coastal resort of Deauville and the missile defense issue will be high on the agenda.

The EU partners will try to convince Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to accept an invitation to attend the NATO summit to discuss the alliance’s call for Moscow to cooperate in missile defense.

“I would like to see cooperation with Russia, it makes sense ... a security roof from Vancouver to Vladivostok,” Rasmussen said.

The Russian ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said a decision had yet to be made on whether to attend, but reiterated Russian concerns that the system could be used to counter Russian long-range missiles.

“Is it just a pretext to move the missile interceptors closer to Russian borders?” Rogozin asked.

“We have appealed to our NATO partners to limit the range of action of the missile interceptors by geography and for some technical parameters to make it possible for the system to only intercept small and medium sized missiles,” he told a seminar in Brussels.

“But they don’t want any limitations and that really poses a threat to the strategic missiles on Russian territory.”

Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Brussels; editing by Mark Heinrich