Romania has agreed to host missile interceptors as part of a revised U.S. plan to protect Europe from ballistic missiles fired from Iran. Both the United States and Romania said Thursday the system is not directed against Russia.
Romania has become the first European country to formally accept a role in the Obama administration's reconfigured regional missile defense system.
Romanian President Traian Basescu announced in Bucharest that the country's Supreme Defense Council had approved an American proposal to station ground-based interceptor missiles on Romanian territory.
The decision would still require approval by the Romanian parliament and the system would not become operational until 2015.
Last September, President Obama scrapped a previous version of the missile shield plan, by the Bush administration, that would have been based in Poland and the Czech Republic. It was bitterly opposed by Russia, which contended it would undermine its strategic nuclear deterrence.
While the previous plan was aimed at protecting Europe and the United States from a potential long-range missile threat from Iran, the revised version would defend U.S. allies from short and intermediate range missiles that Iran already has or is close to deploying.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley stressed that Iran, not Russia, is the source of concern.
"It is precisely what we have always said, which is that we're going to protect our interests and those of our allies," said P.J. Crowley. "We see this emerging threat coming. As we've said, our revised approach is in fact tailored to address the emerging threat coming to the region from Iran. And regarding Russia, as we have made clear over and over again, this is not a capability that's directed at Russia."
Spokesman Crowley said Romania would host U.S. SM-3 interceptor missiles and be the southern leg of a system anchored in the north by Poland.
He said the Warsaw government has agreed in principle to also accept SM-3 missiles but that talks with Poland have not been completed.
He said interceptor missiles aboard U.S. Navy ships in Europe and the Gulf region are also part of the plan.
Russia has cited U.S. missile defense plans as a complicating factor in negotiations with Washington on a new strategic arms reduction accord to replace the 1991 START treaty that expired in December.
Both nuclear powers have indicated that a deal is imminent. A senior official here dismissed a suggestion that the missile defense development might upset the nuclear talks, saying Washington is very comfortable with the Romanian announcement.