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5 Apr, 2009 21:18

‘Iran threat still persists, so missile system continues’ - Obama

Barack Obama has pledged the US will reduce its nuclear stockpile. The American President has given a speech on a range of issues while on a visit to Prague.

US President Barack Obama, fresh from the G20 meeting in London and the NATO summit in Strasbourg, is in the Czech capital for talks between the European Union and the United States.

And while he faces a number of old problems, such as Washington's plans for anti-missile defence in Eastern Europe, many hope he'll bring a new perspective.

In his speech in Prague, Obama outlined the driving force behind missile defence in Europe is the threat from Iran. He said its nuclear and ballistic activities pose a real danger to the world, but added that if that threat was removed, there would no longer be a need for a defensive shield based in the Czech Republic.

“As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with the missile system,” said the US president.

“If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security. And the driving force for missile construction in Europe will be removed.”

In the Czech Republic, around 70 per cent of the population oppose former President George Bush's plans to station a radar base 90 km southwest of Prague.

With Obama reviewing some of his predecessor’s policies, a third of Czechs think the new US President would cancel the construction.

Expectations are high, but in the light of Obama’s speech, protesters still don’t have a clear idea on whether the elements of the planned AMD system will be deployed or not.

The Czech government committed to the anti-missile shield last year by signing two agreements with the Bush administration.

The country’s upper house of parliament had already given the nod and the lower chamber was due to decide in March.

But the government postponed the vote as it was certain it would not get it passed. And just days before Barack Obama’s arrival, the government that signed the radar deal lost a no confidence vote and many campaigners saw it as their victory.

The mayor of the village close to the potential radar base says everyone knows the project's dangers.

“Firstly, such a monster shouldn’t be placed in the center of Europe for simple health reasons – and that is confirmed by the American scientists as much as by our own ones. Secondly, there is an issue of European and world security – every child now knows that if you develop military bases, other countries are unlikely to start actively disarming,” said Jan Neoral, mayor of Trokavec.

The protest on Sunday was the focal point of the whole anti-radar campaign. There was mixed reaction to Obama’s speech.

“He told us the peace movement can shake empires… He said we have to believe we can change the world. Unfortunately, he still said that Iran was a threat – and if we don’t get rid of this Bush doctrine of rogue states like Iran and North Korea – we can’t see a real change in the policy of the United States,” said Jan Majicek, an activist from the 'No to Bases' group.

The President also reacted to the news North Korea launched a rocket saying it proved the world needs a ‘rigorous approach to address that threat’.

“North Korea broke the rules once more by testing a rocket that could be used for a long-range missile. This provocation underscores the need for action, not just this afternoon at the UN Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons. Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons. Now is the time for a strong international response,” declared the American president.

Barack Obama also pledged to start clearing the world of nuclear weapons by reducing his own country’s arsenal.

“The United States will take concrete steps towards a world without nuclear weapons. To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same. Make no mistake, as long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary and guarantee that defence to our allies, including the Czech Republic. We will begin the work of reducing our arsenal. To reduce our warheads and stockpiles we will negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians this year”, said President Obama.