House sets conditions for Europe missile defense

Wed Dec 12, 2007 6:47pm EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives set conditions on the Bush administration's missile defense plans for Europe on Wednesday as part of a defense policy bill that authorized more spending on the Iraq and Afghan wars.

The bill, which passed the House 370-49, is expected soon to be approved by the Senate and go to President George W. Bush for his signature.

Legislators removed or softened some provisions of the bill that Bush had objected to, including a nonmilitary measure to expand protections against hate crimes in the United States.

The legislation stipulates that Poland and the Czech Republic must give "final approval" to any deal negotiated with the United States to build missile defenses there, before the project can go ahead.

It also bars funds from being spent on the missile shield until the secretary of defense certifies to Congress that the system would actually work. And, it requires an independent study of the plan, and alternatives to it.

The White House wants to build the missile shield to counter what it has described as a possible threat from a "rogue state" like Iran. The administration wants to go ahead with the program even after a U.S. intelligence report last week said with "high confidence" that Iran was no longer pursuing nuclear weapons.

The new conditions on the missile shield were slipped into the bill that authorizes Pentagon programs expected to cost $506.9 billion during fiscal 2008, which began on October 1.

The bill authorizes spending another $189.4 billion on the Iraq and Afghan wars, but Congress still must pass a separate appropriations bill before that money can be spent.

Russia, which has long cast doubt on the Bush administration's warnings about Iran, considers the proposed missile shield in Europe a threat to its own security and has objected strongly to the U.S. plans.

Radars for the system are to be installed in the Czech Republic, while the launch pad for 10 intercepting missiles is to be built in Poland. Congress has already voted to withhold financing in fiscal 2008 for construction of the site in Poland, though lawmakers may consider restoring those funds.

European approval could prove more difficult now that the threat from Iran is questioned. Poland also has a new prime minister who has agreed to hold talks with Russia as well as the United States on the missile defense plans.

The United States and Russia are to hold talks about missile defense in Budapest on Thursday.