BRUSSELS - Spain and the U.S. have announced that Spain will provide a base for U.S. ships in support of NATO's missile defense system.
The Oct. 5 agreement was announced by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at NATO headquarters in the margins of a meeting of NATO defense ministers here Oct. 5 and 6.
Under the agreement, four U.S. Aegis ships will be based at the Rota naval base near Cadiz in Spain. The agreement is part of U.S. President Barack Obama's phased adaptive approach to missile defense, under which ship-based, anti-ballistic missiles are being deployed in the eastern Mediterranean followed by ground-based systems in Romania and Poland.
The agreement "reflects a commitment of both countries to the alliance" and marks "an important step forward to protect NATO territories against missile threats," Rasmussen said. "It is smart defense at its best," he said, describing it as "countries working together and sharing together to provide something that benefits us all."
Panetta described it as a "major step in the right direction" for the U.S.-Spain security partnership and said it was a "strong signal that the U.S. is continuing to invest in the alliance and is committed to the defense relationship with Europe even in the face of budget constraints at home."
He said it would boost NATO's naval presence in the region and support NATO's efforts to build a missile defense system on the back of recent agreements with Romania, Poland and Turkey.
Panetta said the ships would also take part in other missions as part of standing maritime groups and carry out naval exercises in the area. Zapatero referred to the use of the ships for NATO missions in international waters, for example, monitoring missions.
Zapatero also said it would have a big socio-economic impact, especially for Cadiz. The government website said that it would create about 1,000 jobs.