EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – Romania on Thursday announced it had agreed to the new US anti-missile defence shield envisaged by the Obama administration after scrapping initial plans in Poland and the Czech Republic.
In a brief statement, Romanian President Traian Basescu said the country's top security body had accepted Mr Obama's invitation to host parts of the American anti-missile defence shield.
Mr Basescu stressed that the system was aimed against threats coming from countries such as Iran, not Russia, in anticipation of potential criticism from Moscow. Previous plans tabled by the George W. Bush administration, which would have put the interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, had been seen as a direct threat to Russia.
The Obama administration decided to scrap those plans, an announcement that caused a stir in Warsaw, especially as a result of the timing, made on the very day when the country was remembering the 60th anniversary of the Soviet invasion.
Mr Basescu also pointed to the fact that the previous version would not have covered his country's territory in case of an Iranian attack, as the range of the Polish-based shield would have reached its limit somewhere in western Romania.
The Romanian Parliament has the last say on the deal, with the new facilities expected to become operational in 2015.
"The US has determined that Romania is well-suited for the location of this system to provide protection for European Nato Allies," the US embassy in Bucharest said in a statement.
Foreign minister Teodor Baconschi said the plan was first presented to Mr Basescu during a visit by US vice-president Joe Biden to Bucharest in October but was not made public.
Romania is already hosting US training facilities for its military, part of a Pentagon shift from large Cold War-era centres in Germany toward smaller and "more flexible" installations closer to the Middle East.
It was also embroiled in a scandal surrounding alleged secret CIA prisons as part of the so-called rendition programme developed by the Bush administration during the "war on terror", in which individuals were secretly flown out of countries like Afghanistan to intermediate locations before being released or transferred to the prison in Guantanamo, Cuba.
Back in Washington, US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said this announcement was a "first step" in terms of the new anti-missile shield architecture, which would later also include ship-based interceptors in the Black Sea.
Mr Crowley also noted that Poland was still in talks for a "northern land-based" missile site. "That development is still under consideration and discussion with Poland," he said.
The spokesman insisted as well that the new shield was not aimed at Russia, but against "the emerging threat coming to the region from Iran."