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U.S. wins NATO backing for missile defense shield

  • Story Highlights
  • NATO backs U.S. plans for part of missile defense shield in eastern Europe
  • U.S. to install radar system in Czech Republic; talks ongoing for Polish missiles
  • Russia opposes the shield; U.S. says it is to prevent attacks from Middle East
  • Albania, Croatia asked to join NATO, but Georgia, Ukraine invitation postponed
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BUCHAREST, Romania (CNN) -- The United States secured NATO's support Thursday to build a missile defense system in eastern Europe, despite fierce opposition from Russia, agencies have reported.

Condoleeza Rice reached the deal with the Czech Republic at the NATO summit in Bucharest

Condoleeza Rice hailed the deal a 'breakthrough agreement' at the NATO summit in Bucharest.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed the deal as a "breakthrough agreement" for the military alliance at the NATO alliance summit in Bucharest, according to The Associated Press.

"Now it is clearly understood in the alliance that the challenges of the 21st century, the threats of the 21st century, make it necessary to have missile defense that can defend the countries of Europe," AP reported Rice as saying.

NATO backing lets the United States and Czech Republic install a U.S. radar system in the republic to track ballistic missiles, according to a written statement released by the State Department on behalf of both nations.

"This agreement is an important step in our efforts to protect our nations and our NATO allies from the growing threat posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction," the statement added.

The other eastern European element of the scheme -- the siting of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland -- has yet to be agreed between Poland and the United States, AP reported, although talks are ongoing.

Moscow has mounted serious opposition to the scheme in recent months, although the United States has insisted it is designed to counter threats from the Middle East and is not an aggressive move against Russia. Video See how Russia has influenced the summit »

The missile defense shield will probably be on the table when President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold one-on-one talks this weekend in Sochi, a Russian resort town on the Black Sea. Video Watch a report on President Bush at his final NATO summit. »

Rice said Thursday that NATO has requested that Russia "stop its criticism of the alliance effort and to join in the cooperative efforts that have been offered to it by the United States."

"We have tried to get the Russians to agree that we will participate as equals in a system designed to provide protection to the United States, Europe and Russia," said U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley. "And to do that in a way where various countries can contribute assets in a context where there's great transparency and reassurance to everybody that this system is about dealing with threats from the Middle East, rather than anything else."

In a statement, NATO urged Russia and other members of the alliance to look at ways of linking the U.S. project with future missile shields in other countries.

Earlier Thursday, alliance members decided not to include Ukraine and Georgia among its new members after strong objections from Russia. However, NATO pledged that the two countries would eventually become members, while also inviting Albania and Croatia to become members of the 26-nation alliance. Video Watch a report on Georgia and Ukraine not joining NATO. »

The decision on Ukraine and Georgia marked a defeat for Bush, who had pushed hard for their inclusion into the alliance and who this week said he would accept "no trade-offs" in putting the nations on a path to membership.

Russia had opposed membership for the former Soviet republics, wary that NATO's eastward march, including the missile defense shield, could erode its influence in those countries.

But a senior Bush administration official said that Ukraine and Georgia will eventually take part in the Membership Action Plan (MAP), the first step on the path toward full membership.

"Would we have preferred to have MAP today? Of course," Hadley told reporters. "Do we think we achieved the strategic decision we needed from the NATO alliance that these countries will be members of NATO? Absolutely."

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer noted that both countries have troops supporting the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, and the alliance is eager for Ukraine and Georgia to continue with domestic reform plans. Video Watch Condoleezza Rice comment on the countries' membership »


Macedonia was denied entry to the alliance after Greece blocked its invitation because of a dispute involving the country's name, although leaders said it can join once a resolution is reached.

The meet is the last NATO summit that Bush will attend. Before it began, he secured more troops for Afghanistan, with France agreeing to send a battalion of at least 700 troops to eastern Afghanistan, which would allow forces already in the country -- mostly Canadian and U.S. troops -- to focus their efforts on the restive south. Video Watch a report on France's pledge to boost NATO troops in Afghanistan » E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2008 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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