Obama shelves Bush-era missile shield plan, unveils new one
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Last Updated: Friday, September 18, 2009, 08:24
Washington: US President Barack Obama on Thursday scrapped a controversial Bush regime missile defence plan for Eastern Europe -- a key irritant in US-Russian ties -- and unveiled a new system which will offer "greater defences" against the threat of possible missile attacks from Iran.

The White House said the new missile defence system for Eastern Europe, which is based on fresh threat and intelligence assessment, would start deployment around 2011 and will be ending in 2020 in four phases.

The "phased, adaptive approach" will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems and will be more effective than the 2007 defence programme, offering "greater defences", Obama said at a hurriedly-convened White House press meet.

Obama said his decision is guided by updated intelligence assessment of Iran's missile programmes, which emphasises the threat posed by its short-and-medium-range missiles, capable of reaching Europe. After a review, the US has concluded that Iran is less focused on developing the kind of long-range missiles for which the system was originally developed, making the building of an expensive new shield unnecessary.

The US President also said there is no substitute for Iran complying with its international obligations regarding its nuclear programme.

The missile defence system was to be built in the Czech Republic and Poland.

"We along with our allies and partners will continue to pursue strong diplomacy, to ensure that Iran lives up to these international obligations. But this new ballistic missile defence programme will best address the threat posed by Iran's ongoing ballistic missile defence programme," Obama said.

"Secondly, we have made specific and proven advances in our missile defence technology, particularly with regard to land and sea-based interceptors and the sensors that support them," he said, adding that the new approach will deploy technologies that are cost-effective and quicker.

"Because our approach will be phased and adaptive, we will retain the flexibility to adjust and enhance our defenses, as the threats and technology continue to evolve.

The new missile defence architecture will provide stronger, smarter and swifter defences of American forces and US allies and is more comprehensive than the previous plan.

"It sustains and builds upon our commitment to protect the US homeland against long-range ballistic missile threats. And it ensures and enhances the protection of all our NATO allies," he said and claimed that this approach is also consistent with NATO missile defence efforts.

"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," he said.

Referring to the strong Russian opposition to the previous plan, which felt the shield will threaten its security, Obama said he has also repeatedly made clear to Russia that its concerns about America's previous missile defence programmes were entirely unfounded.

The Republicans slammed the move as a "misguided decision" that will increase the "vulnerability" of the US.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, termed it a "policy of appeasement".

"This is yet another misguided decision -- based on a misguided assessment of the Iranian missile threat -- that will only serve to increase our vulnerability and that of our allies, while emboldening our enemies," she said.

"We have set a dangerous precedent, telegraphing to the Russian Federation, Iran, and others, that the US is no longer willing to stand up for core principles or defend vital security interests," she said.

"As Russia intensifies its efforts to block crippling sanctions against the Iranian regime for its nuclear weapons programme, it is deeply troubling that the US has chosen to reward the Russian Federation by surrendering missile defence priorities," the Congresswoman said in a statement.

In June, Ros-Lehtinen had introduced a resolution urging the President to expedite the deployment of components of a US missile defence system in Europe.

However, experts from the independent Arms Control Association (ACA) welcomed the decision. "The Obama administration made the right call," said Tom Z Collina, ACA's Research Director. "It would have been extremely unwise to proceed with the Bush administration's plan to rush untested interceptors into Poland to deal with an Iranian long-range missile threat that does not yet exist," he said.

Obama said he has spoken with the prime ministers of both the Czech Republic and Poland about this decision and reaffirmed the deep and close ties.

He also said, "Our clear and consistent focus has been the threat posed by Iran's ballistic missile programme, and that continues to be our focus and the basis of the programme that we're announcing today.

"In confronting that threat, we welcome Russians' cooperation to bring its missile defence capabilities into a broader defence of our common strategic interests, even as we continue our shared efforts to end Iran's illicit nuclear programme," the US President said.

In a fact sheet issued soon afterwards, the White House said the plan provides for the defence of US deployed forces, and its allies in Europe sooner and more comprehensively than the previous programme and involves more flexible and survivable systems.

"This missile defense architecture will feature deployments of increasingly-capable sea- and land-based missile interceptors, primarily upgraded versions of the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), and a range of sensors in Europe to defend against the growing ballistic missile threat from Iran," it said.

"This phased approach develops the capability to augment our current protection of the US homeland against long-range ballistic missile threats, and to offer more effective defences against more near-term ballistic missile threats," the White House said.

Bureau Report

First Published: Friday, September 18, 2009, 08:24

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