U.S. Shelves Missile Defense Plans
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|Thu, 09-17-2009 - 8:50am|
Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer said Thursday that President Barack Obama had told him that the United States will not deploy a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland, Rossia state television reported.
Obama talked by telephone with Fischer on Wednesday night, Czech officials said.
U.S. and Polish officials held talks Thursday on the missile defense system, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzei Kremer told Reuters. He declined to comment after the meeting, but he said earlier in the day that there was a strong possibility that the United States would shelve the system.
Russia had vigorously opposed plans by former President George W. Bush to deploy elements of a missile shield in the two countries, seeing them as a threat to its nuclear potential.
Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the State Duma's International Affairs Committee, praised the U.S. decision, saying in televised remarks that it showed Obama understood Russia's security concerns.
The Foreign Ministry declined immediate comment, saying it was waiting for an official announcement by U.S. officials.
Under the plan developed by the previous U.S. administration, a radar station was to be installed in the Czech Republic and a base for interceptor missiles was to be built in Poland. The Bush administration argued that the sites were needed to intercept possible missile attacks by Iran and other "rogue" nations against the United States and its allies in Europe.
Moscow argued that the bases set up near Russian borders would diminish its capacity for a retaliatory strike in case of a nuclear attack against Russia.
From the early days of his presidency, Obama had made it clear that he would only pursue the missile defense project in Europe if it proved technically feasible.
The decision to shelve the project is linked to Iran's slower than expected progress in developing long-range missiles, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing sources in the U.S. administration.
The diplomatic dispute over missile defense was one of the biggest sore points in Moscow's relations with Washington in recent years and the main obstacle in ongoing negotiations on a new U.S.-Russian nuclear arms agreement to replace the Cold War-era Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in less than three months.