WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon says the U.S. is sending a special radar-equipped warship to the Mediterranean Sea next week, the first step in the development of a broad anti-ballistic missile system to protect Europe against a potential Iranian nuclear theat.

The move marks the first of the Obama administration’s four-phase plan to put land- and sea-based radars and interceptors in several European locations over the next decade. NATO endorses the plan. But it’s triggered opposition from Russia and set off lengthy negotiations over the future expanded ability to shoot down ballistic missiles in the region.

The USS Monterey is equipped with a sophisticated Aegis radar system and will spend six months deployed in the Mediterranean. Other Aegis-equipped ships have deployed to that region, but this is the first under the new program.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.