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Wednesday, September 30, 2009     FOLLOW UPDATES ON TWITTER

U.S. advice for anxious Gulf states: Buy our missile defense system

WASHINGTON — The United States is urging the Persian Gulf states to bolster missile defense capabilities.   

"We have very strong bilateral relationships in developing missile defense with several of the countries in the Gulf," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said. "And now what we're encouraging is to layer on top of that multilateral cooperation as well."

In a Sept. 17 briefing, Gates said Iran's huge ballistic missile arsenal threatens Gulf Cooperation Council and other states. He said the United States has already formed a Gulf missile defense network that consisted of PAC-3 and the Aegis sea-based systems.

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Officials said the Defense Department has been briefing all six GCC states on U.S. plans for a comprehensive air and missile defense umbrella. They said the umbrella would consist of U.S. military- and GCC-controlled assets.

"The reality is we are working both on a bilateral and a multilateral basis in the Gulf to establish the same kind of regional missile defense that would protect our facilities out there as well as our friends and allies," Gates said.

Officials said the United Arab Emirates has been the most advanced in plans to form a missile defense umbrella. The UAE has ordered the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, designed to destroy nuclear missiles in the exoatmosphere.

Over the last two years, the Pentagon has been meeting GCC military chiefs to discuss regional and national missile defense programs. So far, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were pursuing their own missile defense programs based on U.S.-origin assets.

At the same time, the U.S. military has been operating PAC-3 in Kuwait and Qatar. The U.S. Army has also been helping Saudi Arabia upgrade its PAC-2 fleet.

For his part, Gates acknowledged a significant increase in Iran's missile threat. He said Iran has accumulated an arsenal of hundreds of intermediate-range ballistic missiles, including Shihab-3, that could strike much of the Middle East.

"I've addressed this issue two years running in Manama, in meetings of defense ministers before the Manama [strategic] conferences," Gates said. "And we already have Patriots out there and we have Aegis ships out there."

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