BUCHAREST, Romania – Romania's defense minister said Tuesday U.S. plans to deploy anti-missile interceptors in his country are going ahead and that Romania has an "exceptional" partnership with the United States.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week announced that plans to place long-range missile interceptors in the final stage of its European system are being abandoned. U.S. officials have stressed they will deploy shorter-range missiles to Poland and Romania.
Mircea Dusa told the Associated Press on Tuesday that "I have very serious assurances from the American side that the investment in Romania will continue," and interceptors will be deployed in 2015.
"Our military cooperation (with the U.S.) since we joined NATO is an exceptional one."
He said the changes in the defense system plans were caused by spending cuts, not political considerations.
"There is a worldwide problem with the economic crisis and in 2013 very many states are spending less on their defense budgets," he told the AP.
He says Romanian officials were informed three weeks ago followed by confirmation "two to three hours" before the U.S. announcement.
He refused to be drawn on Russia's opposition to the anti-missile interceptors beyond saying that Romania had "normal" relations with Moscow.
Russia has complained about the U.S. plan, with the Kremlin saying it believes it is aimed against Russia's missile program. Washington adamantly denies that and says the system is meant to stop missiles from Iran and North Korea.
Romania's relations have cooled with Russia since Romania joined NATO in 2004 and also over the former Soviet republic of Moldova, which used to be part of Romania. Some three-quarters of Moldova's 4.1 million citizens are of Romanian descent and tens of thousands have Romanian citizenship, but Russia continues to wield economic and political influence.