Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Spain to host ships for NATO missile shield

Spain agreed Wednesday to bolster NATO's planned missile defence system by hosting four US naval ships equipped with interceptors designed to knock out incoming missiles.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero visited NATO headquarters to announce the deal alongside US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

"Spain is a (NATO) member committed to the collective defence of Europe," Zapatero told a news conference, adding that the deal will "also guarantee the defence of our territory and Spanish people".

The Aegis-equipped ships will be deployed at the US naval base in Rota in southern Spain by 2013, Zapatero said.

Panetta said the Rota arrangement was a "critical step" in deploying the shield after a key agreement last month with Turkey to host a sophisticated US radar, and deals with Romania and Poland to host land-based SM-3 interceptors.

"This announcement should send a very strong signal that the United States is still continuing to invest in this alliance," Panetta said.

"We are committed to our defence relationship with Europe even as we face growing budget constraints at home," he said after attending his first meeting of NATO defence ministers since taking office in July.