Obama announces new approach to missile defence
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US President Barack Obama has announced a new approach to missile defence in Europe, shelving the controversial plans for a missile shield backed by his predecessor George W. Bush.
US President Barack Obama has announced a major shift in defence and foreign policy, abandoning his predecessor’s plans to build a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.
Obama said a new more flexible system was required because the nature of the threat posed by countries such as Iran had changed.
“We have updated our intelligence assessment of Iran's missile programmes, which emphasizes the threat posed by Iran's short- and medium-range missiles, which are capable of reaching Europe,” Obama said.
"This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems and offer greater defences against the threat of missile attack than the 2007 European missile defence program," he said.
Obama said it would be a "proven, cost-effective" system.
The plan to build the missile shield in Eastern Europe was mooted during the Bush administration and a deal was signed with Poland and the Czech Republic in August 2008.
It angered Russia, which considered it a direct threat, despite US assurances that the shield was intended to counter a threat from Iran.
Russia has applauded the move to scrap the shield.
A 'victory' for the Kremlin
"We value the U.S president's responsible approach towards implementing our agreements," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in an address shown on national television. "I am ready to continue the dialogue."
FRANCE 24 Moscow correspondent Emmanuel Grynszpan said “This is a huge diplomatic victory for the Kremlin.
“Russia has always objected in the highest terms to the development of this shield, to the point that it was the biggest stumbling block in diplomatic relations between the two countries.
“Moscow never accepted the US explanation that the shield was to guard against a threat from Iran, and always believed it was designed with Russia in mind.
Back home, critics quickly accused the White House of going soft on defence by dropping the project, which had raised the prospect of lucrative contracts for US defence giants.
Senator John McCain, the former Republican presidential candidate, blasted the move as "seriously misguided".
Plans to deploy in 2015
Speaking after Obama, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the US still had plans to deploy missiles in eastern Europe in 2015. Gates said interceptor missiles would initially be deployed on ships to make it easier to move them from one region to another.
Gates told reporters that the US had begun consulting its European allies, including Poland and the Czech Republic, about deploying land-based sensors and interceptors to counter any immediate threat from Iran or other potential aggressors.
The defence secretary argued: "Although the Iranian long-range missile threat is not as immediate as we previously thought, this system will allow us to incorporate future defence capabilities against such threats as they develop."