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NATO welcomes Nordic air surveillance of Iceland

HELSINKI, Finland -- NATO welcomed plans by non-NATO members Finland and Sweden to patrol airspace over Iceland, the head of the defence alliance said Thursday.

"It is a concrete example of how to promote Nordic defence cooperation," Anders Fogh Rasmussen said during a visit to Finland.

"This is a peacetime mission that focuses on training and exercises," Rasmussen said of the plans still being discussed by Sweden and Finland.

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Iceland, a NATO member, lacks its own airforce and military. In 2006 the United States announced it would no longer station permanent defence forces in the North Atlantic country and closed its Keflavik air base.

Since then NATO members have taken turns patrolling Iceland's airspace.

Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden have in recent years discussed closer defence cooperation, one area mentioned was air patrols over Iceland. Denmark and Norway are also NATO members.

Addressing a joint news conference with Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, Rasmussen said the Finnish and Swedish planes would be unarmed while NATO planes would be in charge of "the identification of unidentified planes ... though this did not happen often" over Iceland.

Rasmussen said if Finland opts not to take part in the air surveillance, the decision would not affect its relations with NATO.

Russian premier Dmitry Medvedev, who visited Helsinki on Wednesday, said it was up to Finland to decide where it wanted to patrol. dpa lsm mat Author: Lennart Simonsson

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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