Spain agrees to host US missile defense ships off coast

By David Brunnstrom and David Alexander, Reuters

BRUSSELS–The United States and Spain announced an agreement on Wednesday to base U.S. anti-missile warships at Rota on the Spanish coast, strengthening U.S.-led plans for a NATO-wide missile defense system in Europe. The deal is part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s so-called phased adaptive approach to missile defense, which calls for an initial deployment of ship-based anti-ballistic missiles in the Mediterranean followed by ground-based systems in Romania, Poland and Turkey. The system is expected to start operating next year and become fully operational in 2018. It is designed to protect European NATO states and the United States from missile attack from countries such as Iran and North Korea, which are developing longer-range missiles.

North Korea has a nuclear arms program and the West fears Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Tehran denies this. The new agreement was formally announced at NATO headquarters in Brussels by Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. “This commitment to collective defense is also a guarantee to the defense of Spain and Spaniards,” Zapatero told a media conference. He said it would also be good for the economy of the Cadiz region of southwestern Spain where Rota is located. Panetta said the deal would involve the stationing of four Aegis destroyers in Rota and Zapatero said this would generate about 1,000 jobs, given the need for investment in infrastructure, contracts with service firms and shipyards and the presence of some 3,000 U.S. personnel and their families.

Rasmussen called the missile defense project a success story of NATO’s bid to encourage “smart defence” — multinational collaborative projects that make best use of scarce resources. Panetta said Spain’s agreement to provide the base was “critical” for the missile defence project and showed the continued U.S. commitment to Europe despite massive defence budget cuts in the United States. “This announcement should send a very strong signal that the United States is still continuing to invest in this alliance and that we are committed to our defense relationship with Europe,” he told the briefing. “The United States is fully committed to building a missile defense capability for the full coverage and protection of all of our NATO European populations, their territories and their forces against the growing threat posed by ballistic missiles.” Rasmussen said he “would not be surprised” if there were further announcements in the coming weeks and months on new contributions to the missile defense system.