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Early warning radar to be stationed in SE Turkey as part of NATO missile defense system
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) ' An early warning radar will be stationed in Turkey's southeast as part of NATO's missile defense system, the foreign ministry announced Wednesday.
The system is capable of countering ballistic missile threats from Turkey's neighbor Iran, which last week warned Turkey that deployment of the radar at the military installation would escalate regional tensions. Turkey insists the shield is not targeting a particular country and the ministry statement made no mention of Iran.
Turkey agreed to host the radar in September in the framework of the NATO missile defense architecture, saying it would strengthen both its own and NATO's defense capacities.
"In this context, the site surveys and relevant legal arrangements have also been finalized, and accordingly a military installation in Kurecik has been designated as the radar site," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Selcuk Unal said. "That installation was used in the past for similar purposes."
Kurecik in Malatya province lies some 700 kilometers (435 miles) west of the Iranian border.
In September, Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said the United States hopes to have the radar deployed there by the end of the year.
Turkey's announcement came a day after Romania signed a deal to host a crucial part of a U.S. missile defense system that Romania's President Traian Basescu said would bolster security in the U.S. and Europe. Basescu announced the deal after meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington.
NATO members agreed to an anti-missile system over Europe to protect against Iranian ballistic missiles at a summit in Lisbon, Portugal, last year. A compromise not to pinpoint Iran was reached with Turkey, which had threatened to block the deal if its neighbor was explicitly named as a threat.
Turkey has built close economic ties with Iran and has been at odds with the United States on its stance toward Iran's nuclear program, arguing for a diplomatic solution to the standoff instead of sanctions.
But the agreement over hosting the radar comes at a time when Turkey and Iran appear to be differing on their approach toward Syria, with Turkey becoming increasingly critical of Iranian ally Syria's brutal suppression of anti-regime protests.
Under the NATO plans, a limited system of U.S. anti-missile interceptors and radars already planned for Europe ' to include interceptors in Romania and Poland as well as the radar in Turkey ' would be linked to expanded European-owned missile defenses. That would create a broad system that protects every NATO country against medium-range missile attack.
Russia opposes the planned missile defense system, which it worries could threaten its own nuclear missiles or undermine their deterrence capability. Moscow agreed to consider a NATO proposal last year to cooperate on the missile shield, but insisted the system be run jointly. NATO rejected that demand and no compromise has been found yet.
The Islamic Republic remains locked in a standoff with the West over its nuclear program, which the U.S. and its allies suspect is aimed at developing atomic weapons. Iran denies the charges, and says the program is only for peaceful purposes.
Iran conducts several war games every year as part of its military self-sufficiency program that started in 1992, and frequently unveils new weapons and military systems during the drills. In recent exercises, Iran unveiled underground missile silos that it says is capable of multiple launches.
Tehran says its longest-range missiles, Shahab-3 and Sajjil-2, can travel up to 1,240 miles (2,000 kilometers) ' putting Israel, U.S. bases in the Gulf region and parts Europe within reach.