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
"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
"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.