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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Obama Denies Russia Shaped His Decision

RIA-Novosti / ReutersPresident Dmitry Medvedev visiting the city of Veliky Novgorod on Friday.

U.S. President Barack Obama sharply dismissed criticism that Russian opposition influenced his decision to scrap a European missile defense system, calling it merely a bonus if the leaders of Russia end up “a little less paranoid” about the United States.

“My task here was not to negotiate with the Russians,” Obama told CBS’s “Face the Nation” in an interview Sunday. “The Russians don’t make determinations about what our defense posture is.”

The president’s comments were his first on the matter since he abruptly announced Thursday that he was scuttling plans to deploy a defense shield proposed by President George W. Bush.

At home and abroad, Obama’s decision immediately raised a political question of whether it was done in part to appease Russia and win its help in other areas, mainly in confronting the potential of a nuclear-armed Iran. That point was underscored when Russia lauded the change.

In an interview with CBS News that was taped Friday, Obama was pressed on why he did not seek anything in exchange from Russia. “Russia had always been paranoid about this, but George Bush was right. This wasn’t a threat to them,” Obama said. “And this program will not be a threat to them.”

He added, “If the byproduct of it is that the Russians feel a little less paranoid and are now willing to work more effectively with us to deal with threats like ballistic missiles from Iran or nuclear development in Iran, you know, then that’s a bonus.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also insisted that Obama’s decision was not a concession to Russia. “I believe this is a very pragmatic proposal. I have found since taking this post that when it comes to missile defense, some hold a view bordering on theology that regards any change of plans or any cancellation of a program as abandonment or even breaking faith,” Gates, a Republican who served in senior positions for both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, wrote in an opinion article for The New York Times on Saturday.

Since the plan was announced, Gates has been taking fire from Republicans as well as many military analysts. Senator John McCain called a plan for a new defense system “misguided” and said it was a concession to Russia and an abrogation of a deal between the United States, the Czech Republic and Poland.

Gates, however, said it was “a better way forward.”

“Russia’s attitude and possible reaction played no part in my recommendation to the president on this issue. Of course, considering Russia’s past hostility toward American missile defense in Europe, if Russia’s leaders embrace this plan, then that will be an unexpected — and welcome — change of policy on their part,” he said.

(AP, Reuters)