NATO foreign ministers have confirmed their support for U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in central Europe, despite strong protests from Russia.

All 26 alliance ministers, meeting in Brussels, in a statement Wednesday backed the deployment of 10 missile interceptors in Poland and guidance radar in the Czech Republic.

The statement describes the so-called missile shield as an important step in protecting Western nations from the threat of long-range ballistic missiles.

Russia says the planned shield will undermine Russian security.  Moscow is threatening to deploy short-range missiles on the European Union border if the U.S. plan goes through.

The Bush administration says the shield is designed to protect U.S. allies and interests from ballistic missile attacks by Iran.

Separately Wednesday, Georgian authorities welcomed NATO's decision to deepen cooperation between the alliance and their country.

NATO foreign ministers Tuesday decided to help boost reform in Georgia as part of a push to help the country prepare for future alliance membership.  Reform assistance will come through the NATO-Georgia Commission.

Ministers also decided to provide further reform assistance to Ukraine, to back that country's push for eventual NATO entry.

A final communiqué Wednesday says NATO looks forward to welcoming Albania and Croatia into the alliance at its annual summit in April 2009.  It says a membership action plan will be extended to Macedonia, as soon as its name dispute with Greece is settled.

The document also says NATO will maintain its presence in Kosovo, on the basis of a key United Nations Security Council resolution (1244).  Ministers say they expect "all parties" in Kosovo to help prevent violence and to ensure the safety of minorities in the largely ethnic Albanian territory, which declared independence from Serbia early this year.