Thursday, September 17, 2009

Obama scrapping missile defense shield

New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration plans to announce on Thursday that it will scrap former President George W. Bush’s planned missile defense system in Eastern Europe and instead deploy a reconfigured system aimed more at intercepting shorter-range Iranian missiles, according to people familiar with the plans.

President Obama decided not to deploy a sophisticated radar system in the Czech Republic or 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland, as Mr. Bush had planned. Instead, the new system his administration is developing would deploy smaller SM-3 missiles at first aboard ships and later probably either in southern Europe or Turkey, according to those familiar with the plans.

The announcement, to be made by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was first appointed by Mr. Bush, amounts to one of the biggest national security reversals by the new administration, one that will aggravate Czech and Polish allies and possibly please Russia, which has adamantly objected to the Bush system. But administration officials stressed that they are not abandoning missile defense, only redesigning it to meet the more immediate Iranian threat.

“The way forward enhances our homeland defense and protects our forces abroad as well as our European allies,” said an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid upstaging the announcement by Mr. Gates. “Our review has been driven by an updated intelligence assessment of Iran’s missile programs and new advances in our missile defense capabilities and technologies.”

Administration officials said the Bush missile defense architecture was better designed to counter potential long-range missiles by Iran, but recent tests and intelligence have indicated that Tehran is moving more rapidly toward developing short- and medium-range missiles. Mr. Obama’s advisers said their reconfigured system would be more aimed at that threat by stationing interceptor missiles closer to Iran.

The Obama administration has begun briefing allies on the decision and the Czech prime minister confirmed that he received a phone call from Mr. Obama informing him of the plans.

A Polish diplomat said Warsaw was waiting to hear, but added that “it is clear that the administration has other priorities.”

Mr. Bush had developed a special relationship with Eastern Europe as relations between Washington and Moscow deteriorated. The proposal to deploy parts of the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic were justified on the grounds that they would protect Europe and the eastern coast of the United States against any possible missile attacks from Iran.

But the Polish and Czech governments saw the presence of U.S. military personnel based permanently in their countries as a protection against Russia. Moscow strongly opposed the shield and claimed it was targeted against Russia and undermined national security. The United States repeatedly denied such claims.

Mr. Obama’s advisers have said their changes to missile defense were motivated by the accelerating Iranian threat, not by Russian complaints. But the announcement comes just days before Mr. Obama is scheduled to meet privately with Russia’s President Dmitry A. Medvedev in New York on the sidelines of next week’s United Nations General Assembly session.

The administration maintains that the switch in the Bush plans does not indicate any diminishment of its relations with Poland and the Czech Republic. “The United States stands by its security commitments to its allies,” said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity


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