Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates made clear Thursday that the United States would not alter plans to deploy parts of a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, despite an unexpected proposal by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to use a radar base in Azerbaijan instead.
During a session of defense ministers here, Gates also effectively secured NATO’s endorsement of a U.S. plan to build the missile defense bases in Central Europe, overcoming the concerns of some alliance members that the effort could rupture relations with Russia.
The radar in Azerbaijan offered by Putin at the recent Group of 8 session with President Bush in Germany could complement the sites proposed for Central Europe, Gates said, but not replace them.
“I was very explicit in the meeting that we saw the Azeri radar as an additional capability, that we intended to proceed with the radar, the X-band radar, in the Czech Republic,” Gates said at an evening news conference after meeting with his Russian counterpart, Anatoly E. Serdyukov.
U.S. military officers have said that the X-band radar proposed for the Czech Republic is designed to spot specific objects in space and to assist interceptors in locking on and destroying an adversary’s missile in the middle of its flight. The system in Azerbaijan is an early-warning radar, with a wider range yet less specific tracking ability.
NATO support, described by its officials as a significant step forward for the U.S. proposals, came in the somewhat coded language typical of the Atlantic alliance.
NATO did not issue a specific endorsement of placing the elements of the system in former Soviet satellite states in Central Europe. But it announced an effort that in essence was an agreement that the system would be deployed: a study of how proposed shorter-range NATO missile defense systems would be incorporated in the long-range U.S. anti-missile program. That U.S. system would include 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a network of radar defenses in the Czech Republic.
“There were no criticisms by any of the NATO allies of our missile defense proposals or of our moving forward,” Gates said. “There obviously is interest in trying to encourage the Russians to participate with us, to make the system complementary to NATO shorter-range missile defenses, and for transparency.”
These systems would be “bolted on” to the U.S. system, which is designed to counter long-range missiles, in particular a potential threat from Iran, alliance officials said.
“The NATO road map on missile defense is now clear,” said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO secretary-general. “It’s practical, and it’s agreed by all.”
A senior U.S. official was even more explicit than Gates in summarizing NATO’s support. “What you see here is allies agreeing to adapt NATO’s work to the reality that there will be a long-range system, as well,” the official said.
NATO had already been studying a theater-wide missile defense system, and the decision made Thursday alleviates the alliance of the financial and political costs of creating long-range missile defenses.