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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Obama Drops European Missile Plan

APObama announcing his decision to ditch Bush’s missile plans Thursday.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday abandoned plans for a missile defense shield in Central Europe that had irritated Russia, and invited Russia to cooperate in the development of a more advanced defense system.

“The best way to responsibly advance our security and the security of our allies is to deploy a missile defense system that best responds to the threats that we face and that utilizes technology that is both proven and cost effective,” Obama told reporters in Washington. (For full text of Obama's speech, click here.)

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the advanced defense system that would be pursued to protect the United States and its allies from any threats would start with the deployment of Aegis ships equipped with interceptors. He said land-based defense systems would be set up starting in about 2015.

“We have now the opportunity to deploy new sensors and interceptors in northern and southern Europe that near-term can provide missile defense coverage against more immediate threats from Iran or others,” Gates said.

Obama said Russia was welcome to contribute to the effort.

“In confronting that threat, we welcome Russia’s cooperation to bring its missile defense capabilities into a broader defense of our common strategic interests, even as we continue to — we continue our shared efforts to end Iran’s illicit nuclear program,” he said.

President Dmitry Medvedev said he valued Obama’s “responsible approach” and was ready to discuss further cooperation during a meeting with the U.S. president in New York next Wednesday.

“I believe that we will proceed with giving orders to the respective bodies in our two countries to step up cooperation, including on attracting European and other interested nations,” Medvedev said in remarks shown on state television late Thursday.

The Foreign Ministry offered a more cautious response earlier in the day, with spokesman Andrei Nesterenko saying diplomats needed to see actual documents before making any judgment.

Obama’s administration has long expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the system, which was pushed by former President George W. Bush and envisions the opening of a radar base in the Czech Republic and a base with 10 missile interceptors in Poland. The Bush administration said the system was needed to intercept possible missile attacks by Iran and other “rogue” nations against the United States and its allies in Europe, but Russia vigorously opposed it as a threat to its nuclear potential.

Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer and his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, broke the news first Thursday, saying Obama had informed them by telephone on Wednesday night.

The decision to shelve the project is linked to Iran’s slower than expected progress in developing long-range missiles, the Pentagon said. Recent intelligence reports suggest that Iran has focused on building short- and medium-term missiles, it said.

As for the more advanced defense system, the Pentagon would eventually like to set up a land-based radar station in the Caucasus as part of the system, James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters.

The diplomatic dispute over missile defense was one of the biggest sore points in Moscow’s relations with Washington in recent years and the main obstacle in ongoing negotiations on a new U.S.-Russian nuclear arms pact to replace the Cold War-era Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which expires in less than three months.

Russian defense analysts said the decision to shelve the missile system was much anticipated.

Pressing ahead with the project offered more costs than benefits for Washington, said Alexander Pikayev, a security analyst with the Institute for International Affairs and Global Economy.

Among the costs, he said, were the questionable technological feasibility of the system, opposition from fellow Democrats in Washington, budget cuts, and the risk of straining diplomatic relations with not only Russia but also major Western European powers like Germany and France, which were not enthusiastic with the missile shield.

U.S. and Russian negotiators might now be able to reach consensus on some issues at the ongoing nuclear arms talks and to move ahead on plans to set up information exchange centers in Brussels and Moscow that would monitor the globe and alert NATO members and Russia of missile launches, said Pavel Zolotaryov, a retired major general and deputy director of the Institute of U.S. and Canadian Studies.

Analysts agreed, however, that Obama’s decision would not help him win additional cooperation from Moscow over Iran, which is developing its own nuclear program that it insists is for peaceful purposes.

The next talks among Iran, the five permanent members of the United Nation Security Council, which include the United States and Russia, and Germany are scheduled for Oct. 1. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Thursday that Russia firmly opposes U.S. efforts to impose additional sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.

The decision to shelve the missile defense plans angered many politicians and statesmen in Poland and the Czech Republic, who had fought for the bases despite public disapproval.

The United States, however, does not need to be held hostage to a country like Poland, which had demanded an increased U.S. military presence on its soil as a guarantee against potential Russian military aggression, Pikayev said.

Curiously, Obama’s decision coincided with the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion into Poland, which is often described by Polish politicians as a “stab in the back” because Poland was already fighting the Nazi invasion.

Hours before the official announcement, the Polish Foreign Ministry appeared to be hoping that Obama might yet change his mind, with spokesman Piotr Paszkowski saying the Obama administration had not yet made a final announcement. “Until that happens, there is still time,” he told The Moscow Times by telephone from Warsaw.

Paszkowski added, though, that the missile shield was not considered as high a priority by the Tusk government as it had been by the previous government of Jaroslaw Kaczynsky. “The president will deal with the issue,” he said.

The Czech Social Democratic Party, the second-largest faction in the parliament and an opponent of the radar, as are most Czechs, according to opinion polls, welcomed Thursday’s decision.

“We have anticipated this decision, and we welcome it,” the party’s chief political adviser, Oto Novotny, said by telephone. “We have long been opposed to the ‘hard power’ outlook on security issues that was advocated under the Bush administration. The views of President Obama are much more similar to ours.”

Kristina Mikulova contributed to this report.