US to scrap missile defense shield that irked Russia
The Obama administration is expected to announce Thursday it will shelve Bush-era plans to erect a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, after Iran’s long-range missiles were deemed less of a threat than previously believed.
The plan, to place 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and radar sensors in the Czech Republic, was conceived by the Bush administration and intended to counter a perceived threat from Iranian long-range missiles.
The decision to kill the plan is based on the determination that Iran’s missile program has not developed as had been projected, and therefore does not pose as much of a threat as had been estimated.
Shelving the plan may also build goodwill with Russia, which had strongly opposed the idea of a shield, seeing it as a threat.
The Obama administration's assessment concludes that U.S. allies in Europe, including members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, face a more immediate threat from Iran's short- and medium-range missiles and will order a shift towards the development of regional missile defenses for the Continent, according to people familiar with the matter. Such systems would be far less controversial.
Critics of the shift are bound to view it as a gesture to win Russian cooperation with U.S.-led efforts to seek new economic sanctions on Iran if Tehran doesn't abandon its nuclear program. Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, has opposed efforts to impose fresh sanctions on Tehran.
The Associated Press reports that the White House will brief officials in Poland and the Czech Republic on the findings of the review Thursday. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has also scheduled a news conference Thursday to discuss the plan, said the AP.
Obama took office undecided about whether to continue to press for the European system and said he would study it. His administration never sounded enthusiastic about the plan, and European allies have been preparing for an announcement that the White House would not complete the shield as designed.
The US, along with Russia, Britain, China, France, and Germany, are set to begin talks with Iran in October, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will visit the US next week to attend the UN General Assembly and a G-20 meeting. He will also meet with President Obama.
The Obama administration has made it a goal to improve relations with Russia, which has been angered not only by the missile defense plan but also by proposals to include former Soviet republics in NATO and by US support for Georgia in its war with Russia last year, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
With Barack Obama in the White House, the deployment of the missile shield in Eastern Europe is no longer a given, as defense experts question its costs, its effectiveness and even its location. As a result, the certainties of the Bush era have given way to a sense of betrayal — but maybe also realism — on the part of the East Europeans….
“The East European countries went out on a limb for America during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Ron Asmus, director of the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “Now they feel they are getting whacked."