U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday that Washington remains determined to deploy its planned anti-missile system in Europe to counter the danger of Iran's nuclear program and its long-range ballistic missiles.
"The United States and European Union have stood side-by-side to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons," Biden told the European Parliament. "Iran's nuclear program violates its obligations under NPT and risks sparking a nuclear arms race in the Middle East." The NPT is the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The Obama administration last year scrapped Bush-era plans for an expensive missile defense network based in Poland and the Czech Republic. It replaced them with a more flexible plan to deploy Patriot air defense missiles in several countries in eastern Europe and on ships in the Black Sea and Mediterranean.
The original plan strained ties between the United States and Russia, which saw it as directed against its own ballistic missiles. Russia has been somewhat more receptive of the new program, although it still maintains there is no need for it at present.
On Thursday, the chiefs of defense of NATO nations met in Brussels with their Russian counterpart, Gen. Nikolai Makarov. After the meeting, NATO's top military officer, Italian Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola said Makarov had offered missile defense as an area in which the alliance and Russia could cooperate.
"Wouldn't it be ironic, as the Iron Curtain fell and the threats of mutual assured destruction diminished among the superpowers, a new arms race would emerge in some of the most unstable parts of the world," Biden said.
"In the face of the threat that Iran poses, we are committed to the security of our allies," Biden said.
Iran denies that it is developing nuclear weapons. It has repeatedly pointed out that the only nuclear-armed nation in the region is Israel, one of America's closest allies.
Biden also urged European lawmakers to support NATO's combat mission in Afghanistan, which is facing growing opposition in Europe, where many people consider the war unnecessary and unwinnable.
"While sustaining the mission there has not always not been popular, we know that this is essential," Biden said.
Earlier Thursday, Biden met with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to discuss the Afghan war and relations with Russia.
"They both share the same view. They believe that NATO should take on territorial missile defense as a NATO mission at the next summit" in November, alliance spokesman James Appathurai said. "But this is an alliance decision which will be discussed among member nations."
Fogh Rasmussen also has warned that Iran was moving ahead on developing new missiles of intermediate and intercontinental range.
Both men stressed the need to prepare Afghanistan's army and police to take over responsibility for security in some provinces of the country from the NATO-led international force, which is scheduled to grow to more than 140,000 troops by this summer. This includes the deployment of hundreds more police and army trainers to work with the Afghan forces.
"They pointed out the importance of creating conditions for transitions to be able to go forward at the end of this year if possible," Appathurai said.
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