May 3, 2011 / 6:45 PM / 9 years ago

Romania approves site for U.S. missile defense shield

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania has approved the choice of site for a U.S. missile base that will form part of a shield to protect Europe, President Traian Basescu said on Tuesday.

Romanian President Traian Basescu arrives at an European Union leaders summit in Brussels March 24, 2011. REUTERS/Ezequiel Scagnetti

But Russia said the shield could eventually weaken the nuclear arsenal it relies on for security, and emphasized that it wanted a stronger role in planning a regional anti-missile defense system.

“We approved the system to be located in a former airbase from Deveselu in Olt county,” Basescu told a news conference.

About 200 U.S. troops will be stationed at the base, about 230 km (145 miles) west of Bucharest.

Basescu had earlier said the facility would become operational in 2015, and the U.S. State Department confirmed on Tuesday that deployment was expected in 2015.

Unlike in some European Union members, popular support for U.S. military policy is very high in Romania.

The U.S. plan calls for the creation by about 2020 of a network of land- and sea-based radars and interceptors to defend against what it says is a growing Iranian missile threat. Tehran has accused Washington of stirring up anti-Iranian sentiment.

The Obama administration pleased Moscow in 2009 by scrapping a Bush-era blueprint for long-range interceptors operated from bases in Poland and the Czech Republic. But Russia still has concerns about the new plans, based on shorter-range interceptors.

“The planned anti-missile defense, according to our evaluations, may in the future create a risk for the Russian strategic forces of nuclear deterrence,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

It accused the United States of pressing ahead with its own plans without awaiting the results of talks on missile defense cooperation between Russia and NATO.

It reiterated Russia’s call for a guarantee that a Western shield would not be used to weaken its arsenal, and said Moscow was convinced of the need for Russia and NATO to agree on a “concept and architecture of European missile defense.”

Additional reporting by Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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