BRUSSELS — NATO on Tuesday condemned the release by Wikileaks of confidential and secret diplomatic cables detailing the deployment of US tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, describing the move as "illegal and dangerous."

Leaked US diplomatic cables show that most of the 200 US tactical nuclear bombs still left in Europe are based in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Turkey. The four nations have long been suspected of hosting the warheads, but NATO and the governments involved have always refused to formally confirm the suspicions.

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Italy and Britain also are believed to house dozens of nuclear bombs, but they were not named in the Wikileaks report.

In a cable released by Wikileaks detailing a discussion last year between US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's foreign policy adviser Christoph Heusgen, the US diplomat commented on the battlefield weapons, noting that they were located in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Turkey.

The B-61 bombs, America's oldest nuclear weapons, date back to the 1950s. They were part of Washington's effort to demonstrate a commitment to NATO's defense during the Cold War by embedding such weapons near potential battlefields.

Recently, a number of prominent former European politicians have called for the removal of the weapons, saying they no longer serve any practical purpose. Still, nuclear weapons remain at the heart of NATO's new doctrine — known as the alliance's "Strategic Concept" — adopted at its summit in Lisbon, Portugal, in November.

The new START agreement signed in April by President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev calls for sharp reductions in the two countries' strategic nuclear arsenals. But Moscow has appeared unprepared to deal with the shorter-range battlefield weapons, arguing that while all its have been withdrawn, the US maintains a sizable arsenal near Russia.

The US has an estimated 1,100 tactical nuclear weapons at home and abroad, while Russia is estimated to have at least 2,000.

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