Friday, September 18, 2009

America to Shelve Iran Missile Shield Plan

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President Obama is to scrap plans for a missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic that were originated by his predecessor, George W Bush. The shield involved interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar complex in the Czech Republic. It was promoted by Mr Bush to defend against any missile launches from rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. But it provoked deep unease in Russia, which was unhappy at an American military presence so close to its borders in two former key Soviet bloc states. US officials said the decision to scrap the plans was based on a downgrading of the threat from Iran's long-range missile programme to American and European cities. It was also down to advances in US missile defence technology, particularly with land and sea based interceptor. US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said ships equipped with interceptor missiles would be deployed to defend European allies and American forces.

President Obama said: "The best way to responsibly advance our security and the security of our allies is to deploy a missile defence system that best responds to the threats we face and that utilises technology that's both proven and cost effective. "This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack than the 2007 European missile defence programme. "Our clear and consistent focus has been the threat posed by Iran's ballistic missile programme and that continues to be our focus and basis of the programme that we're announcing today." He added: "I've spoken to the prime ministers of both the Czech Republic and Poland about this decision and reaffirmed our deep and close ties. "To put it simply, our new missile defense architecture in Europe will provide stronger, smarter and swifter defenses of American forces and America's allies." Russia welcomed the change in policy but denied there had been any kind of deal done with America.

The Obama administration wants to improve battered ties with Russia so they can co-operate on Iran, on fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and on reducing their vast arsenals of nuclear weapons. Russia is allowing America to move trains carrying supplies for US forces via Central Asia to Afghanistan, avoiding routes through Pakistan that had come under frequent attack from the Taliban. Washington is also seeking Russian support in economic sanctions against Tehran, which it accuses of developing nuclear weapons. Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer said President Obama had told him of the decision in a late night phone call, adding Poland had been "informed in the same way." Iran denies it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only. Iran and six world powers - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - are due to start wide-ranging talks on October 1.