U.S. Shelves Missile Defense Plans

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U.S. Shelves Missile Defense Plans
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.

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Thu, 09-17-2009 - 8:59am

White House to Scrap Bush’s Approach to Missile Shield


WASHINGTON — The Obama administration plans to announce on Thursday that it will scrap former President George W. Bush’s planned missile defense system in Eastern Europe and instead deploy a reconfigured system aimed more at intercepting shorter-range Iranian missiles, according to people familiar with the plans.

President Obama decided not to deploy a sophisticated radar system in the Czech Republic or 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland, as Mr. 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, those familiar with the plans said.

The White House will announce the decision Thursday morning and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was first appointed by Mr. Bush, will then discuss it with reporters at 10:30 a.m. It amounts to one of the biggest national security reversals by the new administration, one that will aggravate Czech and Polish allies and possibly please Russia, which has adamantly objected to the Bush system. But administration officials stressed that they are not abandoning missile defense, only redesigning it to meet the more immediate Iranian threat.

“The way forward enhances our homeland defense and protects our forces abroad as well as our European allies,” said an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid upstaging the announcement by Mr. Gates. “Our review has been driven by an updated intelligence assessment of Iran’s missile programs and new advances in our missile defense capabilities and technologies.”

Administration officials said the Bush missile defense architecture was better designed to counter potential long-range missiles by Iran, but recent tests and intelligence have indicated that Tehran is moving more rapidly toward developing short- and medium-range missiles. Mr. Obama’s advisers said their reconfigured system would be more aimed at that threat by stationing interceptor missiles closer to Iran.

The Obama administration has begun briefing allies on the decision, and the Czech prime minister confirmed that he received a phone call from Mr. Obama informing him of the plans.

“Today, shortly after midnight, American President Barack Obama contacted me by telephone to inform me that his administration is pulling out of plans to build a radar for the anti-missile defense system on the territory of the Czech Republic,” Mr. Fischer said, adding that “Poland was informed in the same manner.”

A Polish diplomat said early Thursday that Warsaw was waiting to hear, but added that “it is clear that the administration has other priorities.”

Mr. Bush had developed a special relationship with Eastern Europe as relations between Washington and Moscow deteriorated. The proposal to deploy parts of the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic were justified on the grounds that they would protect Europe and the eastern coast of the United States against any possible missile attacks from Iran.

But the Polish and Czech governments saw the presence of American military personnel based permanently in their countries as a protection against Russia. Moscow strongly opposed the shield and claimed it was targeted against Russia and undermined national security. The United States repeatedly denied such claims.

Mr. Obama’s advisers have said their changes to missile defense were motivated by the accelerating Iranian threat, not by Russian complaints. But the announcement comes just days before Mr. Obama is scheduled to meet privately with Russia’s President Dmitri A. Medvedev in New York on the sidelines of next week’s United Nations General Assembly session.

The administration maintains that the switch in the Bush plans does not indicate any diminishment of its relations with Poland and the Czech Republic. “The United States stands by its security commitments to its allies,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Policymakers in Eastern Europe, however, are concerned about Mr. Obama’s priorities, viewing him as someone less interested in the region — and less willing to stand up to Russia — than his predecessor. Compounding sensitivities in Poland was that Thursday is the 70th anniversary of the Russian invasion of Poland, after the Nazis attacked from the west.

Andrei Nesterenko, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said Thursday that the ministry was aware of the reports, but would await the formal announcement before commenting.

The Obama review of missile defense was influenced in large part by evidence that Iran has made significant progress toward developing medium-range missiles that could threaten Europe, even as the prospects of an Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States remain distant.

In May, Iran launched the Sejil-2, the first successful test of a solid-fuel missile. With an estimated range of around 1,200 miles, it could strike Israel or many parts of Europe. Unlike Iran’s liquid-fuel missiles, a solid-fuel missile can be stored, moved around and fired on shorter notice, and thus is considered by military experts to be a greater threat.

The Obama team relied heavily on research by a Stanford University physicist, Dean Wilkering, who presented the government with research this year arguing that Poland and the Czech Republic were not the most effective places to station a missile defense system against the most likely Iranian threat. Instead, he said, more optimal places to station missiles and radar systems would be in Turkey or the Balkans.

“If you move the system down closer to the Middle East,” it would “make more sense for the defense of Europe, Mr. Wilkering said in an interview.

Mr. Wilkering said the new administration did not want to simply abandon missile defense but orient it for a different threat than the Bush team saw. “The Obama administration is more interested in missile defense as a valuable instrument, a valuable aspect of our military posture than I would have thought,” he said. Beyond moving the system from Eastern Europe, the Obama team concluded that the advantage of using the smaller SM-3 interceptors is that they have been proven effective and can be deployed sooner than the ground-based interceptors that the Bush team was still developing.




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Registered: 03-18-2000
Sat, 09-19-2009 - 9:22am

Russia Scraps Missile Deployment after Obama Cancels Missile Shield