Obama scraps missile defence plans for Eastern Europe (Second Lead)September 18th, 2009 - 12:33 am ICT by IANS
Washington, Sep 17 (DPA) The US has dropped plans to base a long-range missile-defence system in Eastern Europe and will instead deploy less complicated systems to counter Iran’s ballistic missile programme, President Barack Obama announced Thursday.
The Bush-era plans to install 10 interceptors in Poland and a radar site in the Czech Republic had long been controversial and were a key cause of the deterioration of US-Russia relations in recent years.
“This new approach will provide capability sooner, build on proven systems and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack,” Obama said.
The US will replace the deployment of the long-range system with more proven short-and medium-range technologies like the sea-based Aegis system and other land-based capabilities, Defence Secretary Robert Gates said.
Moscow vehemently opposed the deployment initiated by the Bush administration in 2006, which reached agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic to host the system. The plans had been held up as the agreement awaited parliamentary approval in both countries.
Meanwhile, Russia argued the system posed a threat to its strategic nuclear deterrent and warned it would target the US system in Eastern Europe. A Russian foreign ministry spokesman said in Moscow prior to Obama’s announcement that the pending cancellation was “good news for Russia”.
There had been speculation Obama would abandon the plans as he tries to “reset” relations with Moscow and move beyond the tension. Ending the plans could also ease negotations underway between the two sides on a nuclear disarmament treaty to replace the one that expires at the end of this year.
Gates said the decision to scrap the plans was based on updated intelligence assessments that stated Iran’s short-and medium-range missile capability was moving at a faster pace than previously believed.
“This poses an increased and more immediate threat to our forces on the European continent, as well as to our allies,” he said.
Gates also said new intelligence estimates indicated Iran’s long-range intercontinental effort was advancing at a slower pace than earlier estimates.
In shelving the long-range plans, the Obama administration had to demonstrate that the decision did not reflect a lack of commitment to the defence of Poland and the Czech Republic and NATO collectively.
“We will continue to work cooperatively with our close friends and allies, the Czech Republic and Poland, who had agreed to host elements of the previous programme,” Obama said. “I’ve spoken to the prime ministers of both the Czech Republic and Poland about this decision and reaffirmed our deep and close ties.”
Obama also said the decision was not connected to Russia’s “unfounded” concerns that the long-range system posed a threat to its security and urged Moscow to work with NATO to develop missile-defence capabilities.
“We’ve also repeatedly made clear to Russia that its concerns about our previous missile defense programs were entirely unfounded,” he said. “Our clear and consistent focus has been the threat posed by Iran’s ballistic missile program and that continues to be our focus and the basis of the program that we’re announcing today.”
Gates said the new plans call for the deployment of SM-3 interceptor missiles in southern and northern Europe to fend off any Iranian attack. The SM-3s will initially be deployed on the Navy’s Aegis ships with plans to install them on land by 2015, Gates said.
The US has begun negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic to host SM-3 and related sites, Gates said.
“These capabilities offer a variety of options to detect, track and shoot down enemy missiles,” Gates said.
The sea-based Aegis system, like other medium-and short-range systems, has proven much more capable and cost efficient, while critics of the long-range system point to its technological shortcomings and high costs.
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Tags: aegis system, ballistic missile, barack obama, defence plans, defence secretary, foreign ministry spokesman, intelligence assessments, interceptors, medium range missile, missile attack, missile capability, missile defence system, nuclear deterrent, nuclear disarmament treaty, parliamentary approval, proven systems, robert gates, russia relations, russian foreign ministry, secretary robert