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NATO Expects Close Work With U.S. On Missiles

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- NATO said it expects closer cooperation with the United States on developing antimissile systems, but did not comment on reports that Washington will shelve plans for a missile defence shield in eastern Europe.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he had spoken to U.S. officials on September 17 but did not react directly to the reports that Washington is backing away from its missile-defense project involving sites in Poland and the Czech Republic, which has provoked Russian concerns.

"It is my clear impression that the American plans on missile defense will involve NATO as such to a higher degree in the future concerning the establishment of missile defense," he told reporters in Brussels. "I highly appreciate that. I think it is in full accordance with the principle of solidarity within the alliance and the indivisibility of security in Europe."

He said closer integration on missile defense would be a positive step and in the interests of "our Eastern allies within the NATO alliance."

Poland and the Czech Republic are among the countries from Eastern and Central Europe which joined NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

NATO has been developing plans for defense against short- to medium-range missiles and has in the past cooperated with Russia to ensure such systems can work with each other.

Washington has said the plans for the Czech Republic and Poland were intended to defend against the possibility of a missile attack on Europe by a country such as Iran. NATO had been considering moves to complement the U.S. system to extend the area protected.

Dropping plans to station antimissile systems in former Soviet bloc states would ease NATO's efforts to boost security ties with Russia, which Rasmussen again said was a priority for the alliance.