,

The United States wants Russia to participate in plans to field a missile-defense system in Eastern Europe to guard against a potential threat from Iran, the DPA news agency reported quoting the U.S. general in charge of the program.

“We are very open to Russian participation and invitation into collaboration on missile defense in the broader sense and on any level, all the way down to specifics in terms of potentially sharing data and radar data information,” said Lieutenant General Henry A Obering, head of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency.

In an attempt to smooth over an issue that has strained US-Russian relations, US President George W Bush spoke Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin and pledged to improve communication with the Kremlin about Washington’s missile-defense plans.

Obering and US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried recently returned from a trip to Europe to secure support for plans to install 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic.

The plans have angered Russia, which views the missile-defense system as another sign of NATO encroachment toward its borders, and created alarm in Western Europe that it could spark a Cold War-style arms race. The United States insists that the system poses no threat to Russia and is essential for broader European security against a long-range ballistic missile threat from Iran.

“The notion that somehow missile defense has to be seen as part of an emerging arms race between the United States and Russia, which is some of the odd commentary I hear from some Europeans, has no relationship to reality,” Fried told reporters.

The United States hopes to have all 10 interceptors installed by 2013, if given a green light from the Polish and Czech governments within a year.

The United States has agreed to the request by NATO partners to get the alliance more involved in the process and address concerns raised by some NATO members.

“In our view, the more NATO is involved in this, the better,” Fried said.

Fried said during his discussion with European officials that there has been a much greater understanding of the purpose of missile defense than has been portrayed by the media.

“At the official level, there is far more understanding, far more commonality of views than you would ever dream from reading some of the European press,” Fried said.

Germany, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, has been trying to mediate differences within Europe over the US plans, but polls show most of the German population opposes a missile- defense shield in the neighbouring countries.

Fried said that he finds the public debate in Germany “somewhat exotic.” He challenged polls in Germany that show Germans believe the United States is a greater threat than Iran and oppose missile defense.

“I’m aware of the polls. I wonder how comfortable Germany would be in a bilateral security relationship with Iran, okay?” he asked. “I don’t even think that many people who say that really mean it.”