Reuters: NATO needs to discuss whether Iran represents a severe enough security threat to justify deployment of a U.S. missile shield in eastern Europe, a German government spokesman said on Monday. By Louis Charbonneau
BERLIN, March 19 (Reuters) – NATO needs to discuss whether Iran represents a severe enough security threat to justify deployment of a U.S. missile shield in eastern Europe, a German government spokesman said on Monday. The United States wants to deploy a radar system in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland, a plan that has enraged Moscow and threatens to divide Europe. Washington says the system is needed to counter the threat posed by Iran.
Germany has said NATO should discuss the issue of the U.S. missile shield. But German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm shifted the discussion by saying NATO needed to decide whether there were any new threats justifying the project.
“The question I’m putting here is whether … there are new threats and accompanying risks, such as a threat from Iran, with which (NATO’s) instruments of defence have not yet caught up,” Wilhelm told reporters.
He added that it was “fully legitimate for a defence alliance like NATO to regularly evaluate its defensive capabilities in view of new challenges and new threats.”
Conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partners, the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), sharply criticised the U.S. missile shield over the weekend. But Wilhelm said the coalition government was unified on the issue.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, an SPD member, warned Washington in a contribution to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung not to try to split Europe into “old” and “new” with its plans.
Steinmeier is due to travel to Washington on Monday for talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on issues like the Middle East peace process and Iran’s nuclear programme.
Several European diplomats in Berlin said Germany and other European Union member countries were not convinced by U.S. arguments that Iran represents a grave enough security threat to justify angering Russia with the missile shield.
Moscow sees the shield as an encroachment on its former sphere of influence and an attempt to shift the post-Cold War balance of power.
Wilhelm said Merkel was pleased that NATO members have indicated their readiness to discuss the missile shield.
“In recent days there have been signals indicating that this question will be raised within NATO,” he said, adding that issue needed “calm and careful discussion.”