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NATO backs U.S. missile plan

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - NATO’s secretary-general mounted a stout defence of Washington’s missile shield plan on Monday, the day before meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin when the issue is likely to top the agenda.

Russia has described United States’s plan to place part of its missile shield in eastern Europe as a threat and the issue has divided European politicians with some saying it is vital for defence and others saying it is misguided.

“You don’t have to be Einstein to understand that 10 interceptor rockets don’t pose any threat to Russia and the Russian people,” NATO’s Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said via an interpreter in a debate on Russia’s Ekho Moskvy radio station.

On Tuesday de Hoop Scheffer meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Putin.

He underlined the shield was aimed at shooting down missiles fired by rogue states such as North Korea and Iran, and that Russia also shared these common enemies.

In echoes of the Cold War, Putin this month said he would order Russia to aim its missiles back at major European cities if Washington went ahead with the plan to site elements of the shield near Russia’s borders.

“We were enemies and we tried to destroy each other but that era has now finished,” de Hoop Scheffer said on Monday.

The United States wants to place part of the missile shield in Poland and the Czech republic.

As an alternative to the shield, Russia has also offered the United States use of a Soviet-built radar station in Azerbaijan. The United States said it would consider the offer although the Azeri radar station could not replace the main missile shield.