US 'Star Wars' missiles will be in Europe in five years

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The Independent US

The US wants to base at least 10 missiles in Europe for the "son of Star Wars" missile defence system within the next five years, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

The US wants to base at least 10 missiles in Europe for the "son of Star Wars" missile defence system within the next five years, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

The Pentagon has also already decided to prepare for a major new missile interceptor base in Europe and is starting detailed studies to find the best site - including possible bases in the UK.

These proposals - which go far beyond previous statements about US plans in Europe - were disclosed by Lt-Gen Henry Obering, the head of the US Missile Defence Agency, in an exclusive interview with the IoS.

Lt-Gen Obering revealed that the US would start buying missiles for the new site as early as October next year, and would choose which European country would host the site soon afterwards.

He confirmed that the UK is in the running to host the interceptors - provoking angry claims from opposition MPs and defence analysts that Parliament and British voters were being deliberately kept in the dark by the Government.

The base is a key part of President Bush's $10bn-a-year plan to construct a "missile shield" to protect the US and its European allies from weapons fired by rogue states in Asia and the Middle East, such as North Korea and Iran. Two sites have already been built in Alaska and California.

Lt-Gen Obering said he was unaware of Tony Blair's informal pledge to President Bush - revealed by the IoS last month - that Britain would agree to a US request to station the missiles in Britain, as long as it is made after the election. "There are several nations that we're undergoing talks with, with respect to the hosting of the third site," he said, adding: "We're still very much in the exploratory stages of what's possible - not just with the UK."

In a reference to his plans to begin ordering the missiles next year, he said: "We've some significant money in the 2006 President's budget that we would begin to execute in October 2005."

The agency is now starting a "technical assessment" of possible sites, he said, to determine, for example, whether the ground could bear the weight of the silos, the quality of power supplies and roads, and the site's military suitability. The US is understood also to be looking closely at Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

However, the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office deniedthe Government was helping the US to find a site in Britain, and insisted no decision had been made on whether the UK would allow the missiles to be based here.

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