SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

NEW YORK - The United States and its Persian Gulf allies are pursuing a regional missile defence system to protect against an Iranian attack, a leading American newspaper reported Thursday.

Citing government officials and public documents, The New York Times said the enterprise requires Persian Gulf nations to set aside differences, share information and coordinate their weapons arsenals to create a defence shield that covers and protects all the allies.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was among the first to call for a gulf missile shield several years ago and more recently tried to nudge gulf allies while she visited Saudi Arabia, it said.

The objective in the gulf, according to the report, is the same as the one of the better known missile defence shield being installed in Europe: deterring any Iranian attack and, if necessary, thwarting the effect of missiles launched against allied territory and US forces.

The Persian Gulf initiative is being developed behind the scenes on a country-by-country basis, the Times said. Billions of dollars in arms sales have been negotiated between the United States and nations in the region.

The next challenge, analysts said, is persuading gulf nations to set aside their rivalries and share early warning radar data, then integrate their unilateral missile interceptor systems so the defence shield can extend to the entire region.

Three weeks ago the Pentagon announced the newest addition to Persian Gulf missile defence systems, informing Congress of a plan to sell Kuwait $4.2 billion in weaponry, including 60 Patriot Advanced Capability missiles, 20 launching platforms and 4 radars. This will be in addition to Kuwait’s arsenal of 350 Patriot missiles bought between 2007 and 2010.

The United Arab Emirates acquired more than $12 billion in missile defence systems in the past four years, documents show. In December, the Pentagon announced a contract to provide the Emirates with two advanced missile defence launchers for a system called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, valued at about $2 billion, including radars and command systems.

An accompanying contract to supply an arsenal of interceptor missiles for the system was valued at another $2 billion, according to Pentagon documents.

Saudi Arabia also has bought a significant arsenal of Patriot systems, the latest being $1.7 billion in upgrades last year.

The United States’ own military forces provide a core capability for ballistic missile defences in the Persian Gulf, in particular the American Navy vessels with advanced tracking radars and interceptor missiles, the Times said. According to Navy officials, these Aegis missile defence systems, carried aboard both cruisers and destroyers, are in the region on continuous deployments.

And the United States has deployed a number of land-based missile defence systems to defend specific American military facilities located around the gulf, it added.