US President Barack Obama said plans to build a missile defence shield in Europe will move ahead as long as Iran poses a threat. Around 300 people gathered in Prague on Saturday to protest missile shield plans.
AFP - US President Barack Obama said Sunday he would move forward with a planned missile defence shield in central Europe despite Russian objections, saying Iran remained a real threat.
Obama said the project to install a radar system and 10 interceptor missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland could still be scrapped, but only if Iran was deemed no longer a danger.
"Let me be clear: Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran's neighbours and our allies," Obama said in a keynote speech on nuclear proliferation in Prague.
"The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defence against these missiles.
"As long as the threat from Iran persists, we intend to go forward with a missile defence system that is cost-effective and proven."
Iran insists its nuclear programme is only designed to meet energy needs.
The US shield plan, unveiled by Obama's predecessor George W. Bush, has enraged Moscow, which at one stage threatened to respond by placing missiles in its exclave of Kaliningrad, bordering Poland and Lithuania.
Obama, who last month held out an olive branch to Iran's leaders urging them to join the international fold, stressed the plans would no longer be necessary if Tehran was no longer a threat.
"If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defence construction in Europe at this time will be removed," he said.
However Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who held talks with Obama about the shield, said he saw the project as providing protection against other potential adversaries.
"The threat from Iran is just one instance," he said.
"The strategy has to do not only with long and medium but also short-range missiles."
Topolanek, who is due to step down in the next few weeks after losing a no-confidence motion, said he was not bothered by opinion polls showing that up to 70 percent of Czechs were opposed to the radar project.
"I think that if the Czech government only looked at opinion polls we would never get anywhere," he said.
After the summit, a group of around 300 protestors staged a demonstration in central Prague against the shield project in defiance of a ban by authorities.
Attempts by the protestors to access a road which Obama was expected to use on his way out of town were rebuffed by riot police.
"President Obama: Don't carry on with the policy of the bloodthirsty Bush" read one banner, while another said: "The cabinet has fallen, the radar will fall soon."
"I feel we won't see a big change under Obama," said Jan Tamas, head of the No To Bases movement, which organised the protest.
Obama said Iran had yet to build a nuclear weapon and his administration would try to engage Tehran and present it with a choice.
"We want Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations, politically and economically. We will support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections. That is a path that the Islamic Republic can take," he said.
"Or the government can choose increased isolation, international pressure, and a potential nuclear arms race in the region that will increase insecurity for all."
The missile defence scheme was broached when Obama met Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week on the sidelines of the G20 summit in London.
Their joint statement said they had discussed "new possibilities for mutual international cooperation" on the issue.
Date created : 2009-04-05