THE United States is close to activating a missile shield over southern Europe in the face of a missile threat from Iran.

Citing unnamed Pentagon officials, The Washington Post reported that the US Defence Department is nearing a deal to establish a key radar ground station probably in Turkey or Bulgaria.

Installation of the high-powered X-band radar would enable the first phase of the shield to become operational next year, the report said.

In September 2009, Barack Obama scrapped a missile shield project, which had been pushed by his predecessor George W. Bush and would have seen a powerful radar installed in the Czech Republic and 10 long-range ballistic interceptor missiles in Poland by 2013.

The shield plan had enraged Russia, which called it a security menace on its doorstep, although Washington insisted the aim was to ward off a potential long-range missile threat from Iran.

But according to The Post, a plan to protect southern Europe from missiles is still being implemented.

The US military is also working with Israel and allies in the Persian Gulf to build and upgrade their missile defence capabilities, the report said.

The US installed a radar ground station in Israel in 2008 and is looking to place another in an Arab country in the gulf region, the paper said.

The radars would provide a critical early warning of any launches from Iran, according to The Post.

The missile defences in Europe, Israel and the Gulf are technically separate and in different stages of development, the paper said.

But they are all designed to plug into command-and-control systems operated by, or with, the US military.

The Israeli radar is operated by US personnel, and it is already providing information to US Navy ships in the Mediterranean, the paper noted.