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Matthias Schrader, Associated Press
NATO Secretary General , Anders Fogh Rasmussen, attends an interview with The Associated Press during the Security Conference on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012 in Munich, southern Germany. Politicians and military representatives attend the 48. Munich Security conference until Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012.

MUNICH — NATO leaders have downplayed Moscow's fears that a new Europe-based missile defense system represents a threat to Russia, and vowed to move ahead with it.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told The Associated Press on Saturday that the alliance expects to have first elements of the defense system up and running by its summit in Chicago in May, and that it would continue to work on getting Russia on board with the plan.

Fogh Rasmussen said, "We will continue to develop a NATO missile defense system because we feel a strong responsibility to protect our populations effectively against the missile threat."

He spoke on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, where Russian Sergey Lavrov told delegates the U.S.-led plan "rings alarm bells" and suggested it risks seriously damaging relations with Moscow.