Thursday, September 17, 2009


President Barack Obama has announced a major overhaul of the US missile defence system in Europe.
Bases which had been planned for Poland and the Czech Republic are to be scrapped for now after a review of the threat from Iran.
The US decision marks a major foreign policy shift which could impact on its dealings with Europe, Russia and Iran.
Russia, which saw the shield as a threat, initially welcomed the news but there has been criticism in the US.
The US signed a deal in August 2008 with Poland to site 10 interceptors at a base near the Baltic Sea, and with the Czech Republic to build a radar station on its territory.
The US had said the missile shield would be fully operational by 2012.
President Barack Obama earlier this year ordered a review of the defence system, which was strongly backed by his predecessor George W Bush.
President Obama said in a live TV address the change was needed to "deploy a defence system that best responds to the threats we face".
He said a review had shown the need to switch strategy to defending against the short- and medium-range missiles that Iran could use to target Europe.


BBC World Affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds

The decision would be a huge shift in American foreign and defence policy by the Obama administration. It is a major signal that the US is adopting a far more cautious foreign policy under President Obama.
The Russians will be pleased by the news and therefore relations will be eased. But they might also feel triumphant and conclude that their tough approach is one that brings respect and results.
The move might also indicate that the Obama team will be looking sceptically at claims Iran is developing an actual nuclear weapon. There will also be debates about the long-term US commitment to Europe. Meanwhile, on the military side, this decision would herald a shift of emphasis in the whole US anti-missile defence strategy.

Twice Mr Obama referred to the need for a system that was "proven and cost effective".
The system would stress land and sea-based interceptors.
He said the new approach would provide "a stronger, smarter and swifter defence" of US and allied forces in Europe.
Mr Obama said he had spoken to both the Czech Republic and Poland and stressed his commitments to their defence.
But he said again that Russia's concerns about the old system were "entirely unfounded".
Mr Obama's switch from the Bush plan has already drawn criticism in the US.
John Bolton, who was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under President Bush, said the move was "unambiguously a bad decision".
He said: "This gives away an important defensive mechanism against threats from countries like Iran and other rogue states, not only for the US but for Europe as well.
"It is a concession to the Russians with absolutely nothing in return."

Iran says its missile development programme is solely for scientific, surveillance or defensive purposes, but there are concerns in the West and among Iran's neighbours that the rockets could be used to carry nuclear weapons.
As part of long-running efforts to tackle the issue, Iran will hold talks on its nuclear programme on 1 October with the UK, China, France, Russia and the US - the five permanent UN Security Council members - and Germany.
Russia had seen the US missile plan as a direct threat to itself, despite US assurances that it was aimed at "rogue" states, such as Iran.
Russia's ambassador to Nato, Dmitry Rogozin, initially said the move was "a breakthrough" for US-Russian relations, although they were waiting for official confirmation from the US.
"This means we're getting rid of one of those niggling problems which prevented us from doing the real work," he said.
In November, Russia moved its own ballistic missiles to Kaliningrad, between Nato member states Lithuania and Poland to "neutralise - if necessary - the [US] anti-missile system", President Dmitry Medvedev said at the time.
Mr Medvedev also said Russia would jam the US anti-missile system electronically.
The two countries are currently in talks about reducing their nuclear weapons stockpiles, and the US move could influence Russia to be more co-operative, our correspondent says.
Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the US move was "a positive step", Associated Press reported.



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