ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey is set to host a NATO early-warning radar system as part of improved defenses for the Western military alliance, the foreign ministry said on Friday.
Turkey, with NATO's second biggest military, has a geo-strategic importance to the alliance dating back to its role as a front-line state in the Cold War era. But its value to NATO has risen as Middle East states with anti-Western policies, like Iran, have developed their missile capabilities.
Last November, NATO leaders approved a new mission statement for the Western military alliance, committing among other things to missile defense.
NATO's Strategic Concept for the coming decade, approved at a summit in Lisbon, confirmed the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's core task of defending its territory and its commitment to collective defense of its 28 members.
The foreign ministry spokesman said the alliance decided to develop a new defense system against a ballistic missile threat and that work on the project was reaching its final stages.
"It is anticipated that the early warning radar system allocated by the United States for NATO will be deployed in our country," a ministry spokesman said in a statement.
"Turkey's hosting of this element will constitute our country's contribution to the defense system being developed in the framework of NATO's new strategic concept. It will strengthen NATO's defense capacity and our national defense system." No further details were immediately available.
In recent years, Turkey has sought stronger ties with former Soviet bloc members, as well as fellow Muslim states in the Middle East, including Iran, to re-balance a foreign policy that had previously leaned heavily toward the West.
Russia's NATO envoy said a radar system in Turkey would not threaten Russian security, but reiterated accusations that the United States is pushing ahead with their plans for a missile shield despite vows to cooperate with Moscow.
Moscow says a NATO missile defense system could threaten its security if it develops the capability to down Russian nuclear missiles. The Kremlin is demanding a role in a joint system or binding guarantees that Russia would not be targeted.
"According to Russian military experts, the deployment of a radar in Turkey is not a direct threat to Russia's strategic nuclear forces, the Interfax news agency quoted Russia's NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, as saying.
However, he said "the United States continues to pursue its plan for deployment of the military infrastructure of missile defense ... independently of consultations it is holding in the NATO format and, more broadly, with Russian participation."
(Additional reporting by Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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