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updated 1/25/2007 10:19:10 PM ET 2007-01-26T03:19:10

The United States has fallback options for missile defense sites in Europe if coming negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic fail, senior Pentagon officials said Thursday.

Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, head of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, said the United States wanted up to 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland and an advanced radar station in the Czech Republic.

The aim is to counter what U.S. officials project to be a long-range Iranian missile threat by 2011 or 2012, he told reporters in a teleconference to respond to stated Russian security concerns.

“There are other options and other alternatives that we could fall back to if the negotiations were to be not successful,” he said.

The U.S. State Department said Sunday the Czech Republic and Poland had agreed to start detailed discussions with Washington on hosting part of a fledgling U.S.-built shield against ballistic missiles that could be tipped with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. They would bolster a total of 24 or 25 ground-based interceptors due to be installed by the end of this year in Alaska and California, primarily to counter North Korea.

Obering did not identify any fallbacks, but said interceptors and radar could go elsewhere in Europe if necessary. In the past, U.S. officials have mentioned Britain as a possibility.

The fallbacks were being held “in reserve,” even though their locations were not optimal for countering the flight paths of potential long-range Iranian missiles, he said.

Brian Green, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategic capabilities, said during the call that the negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic were expected to succeed.

“That said, if there are difficulties, I think it’s fair to say that the U.S. interest in putting missile defense assets in Europe would remain, and we’d simply have to consider the alternatives,” he said.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Wednesday that neither North Korea nor Iran could hit Europe with long-range missiles, suggesting the real target of the anti-missile system was Moscow.

Obering conceded there was no current long-range Iranian threat, but added,  “We’re in a chess match in a sense that we have to stay ahead of what we think the threat is.”

Seeking to allay Moscow’s concerns, he said any U.S. interceptors in the area would be physically incapable of catching long-range Russian missiles “from the locations that we’ve outlined in Eastern Europe.”

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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