NATO’s defence ministers have tacitly agreed to a planned US missile defence shield in eastern Europe despite reluctance by Moscow.
The alliance will examine the implications of the US plan and deliver its result by February, ahead of the next NATO summit when Washington hopes the 26 members will agree to start work on the system.
The US announced plans in January to install 10 missile interceptors in Poland, and a radar base in the Czech Republic by 2013.
The idea is to be able to counter attacks from what Washington regards as “rogue states”, in particular Iran.
But Turkey, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria would only be partially covered.
To resolve this problem, the alliance wants to add a smaller missile system to the planned one.
The US scheme angered Russia which said it represented a threat to its own security.
Moscow retaliated with threats of turning its own arms toward Europe.
However, last week Russian president Vladimir Putin made a surprise offer to Washington to set up a joint radar base in Azerbaijan. Both sides are studying the project.
On a recent visit to Prague, US President George W Bush was greeted by angry demonstrators. Two-thirds of the Czech population are opposed to hosting a US radar base.