NATO approves first phase of European missile shield

U.S. and NATO leaders decided to move forward with the plan during the alliance's annual conference in Chicago, according to recent news reports. 

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The plan will put a U.S. Navy ship stationed in the Mediterranean and a radar station located in Turkey under NATO command. 

The ship, armed with the Aegis anti-missile system, will coordinate with the Turkey radar station to defend against the long-range missile threat posed by Iran. 

The American warship will only be one element of a massive combined land and sea-based missile shield system that the Obama administration wants in place by 2020. 

While the White House and NATO argue the missile shield will fill a critical security gap among European nations, its creation has stoked fears inside Russia. 

Moscow is concerned the anti-missile systems designed to counter Iranian missile systems could easily be used to take out Russian-operated missile systems stationed in Eastern Europe. 

Russia has demanded that NATO sign an agreement guaranteeing that none of the weapons included in the missile shield would be used to neutralize the country's own missile defense system. 

NATO leaders declined to sign any such agreement and refused to hand over joint control of the shield to Russia. Since then, Washington and Moscow have been at loggerheads over the issue. 

However, alliance leaders sought to appease Russian concerns over the missile shield on Sunday by keeping open the option of Russian participation in the effort. 

"This is not a project targeted against Russia, but a project we want to push forward with Russia in the interest of Europe's security," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters in Chicago on Monday. "And therefore the door for Russia will stay open."

Aside from Russia, the Obama administration is also facing opposition from Congress over the new missile shield. 

House lawmakers opted to cap all spending on all "missile defense equipment" required to support the missile shield by 25 percent until NATO agrees to a "pre-financing request" on the effort by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. 

The measure was included in the House version of the 2013 defense budget bill. The full House approved their version of the defense legislation last Friday.