US abandons missile shield

Washington to deploy a reconfigured system to intercept Iranian missiles

US abandons missile shield

Obama administration decided not to deploy a sophisticated radar system in the Czech Republic or 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland, as Bush had planned.

Instead, the new system his administration is developing would deploy smaller SM-3 missiles, at first aboard ships and later probably either in southern Europe or Turkey, officials said. “President Bush was right that Iran’s ballistic missile programme poses a significant threat,”Obama told reporters at the White House. But the president said new assessments of the nature of the Iranian threat required a different system that would use existing technology and different locations.

New approach

“This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems and offer greater defences against the threat of missile attack than the 2007 European missile defense programme.”

The decision amounts to one of the biggest national security reversals by the new administration, one that has upset Czech and Polish allies and pleased Russia, which has adamantly objected to the Bush plan.  But Obama administration officials stressed that they are not abandoning missile defence, only redesigning it to meet the more immediate Iranian threat.

Obama called the leaders of both Poland and the Czech Republic before making his announcement and said he “reaffirmed our deep and close ties.”
In speaking with reporters, he also reiterated America’s commitment under Article V of the Nato charter that states that an attack on one member is an attack on the entire alliance.

Offer to Russia

But he also repeated that Russia’s concerns about the original missile defence plan were “entirely unfounded” because both then and now it is aimed only at Iran or other rogue states.  Obama offered again to work with Russia on a joint missile defence programme.
Obama’s advisers said their reconfigured system would be more aimed at that threat by stationing interceptor missiles closer to Iran.

In arranging post-midnight calls by Obama to Czech and Polish leaders, and quickly sending a top State Department official to Europe, the administration was scrambling to notify and assure the European allies early on Thursday morning as word of its decision was already leaking out in Washington. But it made for unfortunate timing, as Thursday is the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland at the start of World War II, a date fraught with sensitivity for Poles who viewed the Bush missile defence system as a political security blanket against Russia.

Poland and many other east European countries in the former Soviet Union sphere worry that Barack Obama is less willing to stand up to Russia.

Meanwhile, spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry  Andrei Nesterenko said that if the antimissile system was indeed being scrapped, it would be a “positive sign” for Russia.

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