|September 17th, 2009||#1|
Join Date: Jul 2007
U.S. abandons missile shield in Europe
U.S. abandons missile shield in Europe
Thu Sep 17, 2009
By Jana Mlcochova and Gabriela Baczynska
PRAGUE/WARSAW (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama has told east European states he is abandoning plans for an anti-missile shield there, in a move that may ease Russian- U.S. ties but fuel fears of resurgent Kremlin influence.
Russia said it would welcome cancellation of the program, promoted by Obama's predecessor George W. Bush and now a source of tension overshadowing U.S. efforts to enlist Kremlin support over Afghanistan, Iran and nuclear arms control.
The Pentagon said the White House would be making a 'major announcement' on Thursday about the project, that had raised the prospect of multi-billion dollar contracts for U.S. defense giants.
The shield, involving interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar complex in the Czech republic, was intended to defend against any long-range missile launches from "rogue" states such as Iran and North Korea. Russia saw it as a threat to its missile defenses and its overall security.
"Today, shortly after midnight, Barack Obama telephoned me to announce that his government is backing away from the intention of building a missile defense radar on Czech territory," Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer told reporters.
A senior Polish source close to the negotiations told Reuters Warsaw had received a similar message.
A U.S. defense official said Washington was now examining an alternative to the "large, fixed system" of the shield. He gave no details.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the planned shield been based on the concern that Iran was determined to develop long-range intercontinental missile capability. Recent intelligence showed, however, that the Iranians were much more focused on developing short- and medium-range missiles.
The Obama administration seeks to "reset" battered ties with Russia so that the two former Cold War foes can cooperate on Iran, on fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and on reducing their vast arsenals of nuclear weapons.
Washington has won permission to move trains carrying supplies for U.S. forces across Russia via Central Asia to Afghanistan, avoiding routes through Pakistan that had come under frequent attack from the Taliban.
Diplomats in Moscow say Russian hardliners could read the shield backdown as a sign of U.S. weakness. Far from doing the bidding of the United States, they may instead press for further gains to shore up Russian power in the former Soviet bloc.
That view was shared by John Bolton, a prominent hawk in the Bush administration.
"I think this is a near catastrophe for American relations with Eastern European countries and many in NATO," he said. "I think it was the kind of unilateral decision that the Bush administration was always criticized for and I think the clear winners are in Russia and Iran."
Eastern European states, especially Poland and the Baltic states, saw the missile plan as a symbol of U.S. commitment to the defense of the region against any encroachment by former Soviet masters 20 years after the collapse of communist rule.
Some east Europeans see Russia's brief war with Georgia last year and confrontations with Ukraine over gas supplies as symptoms of a Russian 'neo-imperialism' driven by a view of eastern Europe as belonging to Moscow's sphere of influence.
Iwona Jakubowska-Branicka, sociology professor at Warsaw University, saw less cause for alarm.
"I don't think the enemy is just outside our gate...There is no sense in building a sense of danger from Russia. It's a different world now. Russia cannot just enter Poland, take part of the Czech Republic or carve up Slovakia."
Ignoring U.S. assurances that the system was not targeted at Russia, President Dmitry Medvedev threatened last year to station missiles in a Russian enclave near Poland if the United States implemented the plan.
For Poland, the timing of the announcement is particularly sensitive. Thursday marked the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland following a pact between Moscow and Nazi Germany, an event seen by Poles as "a stab in the back."
"I hope this is just a coincidence," said Waszczykowski.
A senior Iranian government source said the move could signal a move away from what he called 'threats and confrontation' over Iran's nuclear program.
"There could be two reasons behind such a decision; either the U.S. has reached the conclusion that Iran is not a threat, or the Russians may have convinced the Americans that there is no need for such a defense shield."
Multi-billion dollar contracts contested by U.S. defense giants are at stake in the future of U.S. missile defense plans.
Boeing Co, the Pentagon's No.2 contractor, last month unveiled a proposal to build a mobile interceptor missile in a bid to blunt Russian fears of U.S. fixed sites in Europe.
Boeing, which manages the hub of a layered U.S. anti-missile shield deployed in 2004, was eyeing a 47,500-pound interceptor that could be flown to NATO bases as needed.
(Additional reporting by Jan Lopatka in Prague, Conor Sweeney in Moscow, Mohammad Zargham in Washington and Ross Colvin in Baghdad, Jim Wolf, Tim Hepher; Writing by Ralph Boulton)
|iran, nato, russia, spheres of influence|