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Obama new missile defense policy to shield Russia too?

The US administration's recent decision to scrap plans for an anti-missile defense shield in Europe has warmed relations with Russia, but replacing it with a new shield is now on the agenda.

As missiles blasted off in Iran, the debate about President Barack Obama's new missile defense plan was launched in the US and it has left even the most eloquent in Washington tongue tied.

“It is very clear that nothing that we did had anything to do with getting something from Russia,” said Ellen Tauscher, US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

But the timing of the announcement raised a few eyebrows among members of Congress.

“It occurred on the eve of the negotiations with Russia on the START treaty, and we know President Medvedev has suggested that progress on START could hinge on the US giving up its European missile defense plans,” said one of the members of Congress.

And while US foreign policy and military experts insist the decision had nothing to do with Russia, they're not afraid to acknowledge the benefits.

“We're obviously aware of the ancillary benefits of working more closely with Russia… our NATO allies are very interested in working and engaging with Russia,” said Tauscher.

The Bush-era missile defense plan is now officially dead. Experts say the new one is more powerful, cost-effective and mobile.

While members of Congress couldn't all agree on the motivation behind the new plan, they all did seem to believe that missile defense is important to counteract the growing threat from Iran, a threat that the US believes also endangers Russia.

“Russia shares the same threats that we do from short, medium and long-range missile missiles from Iran,” said Tauscher.

And despite the new plan, people behind it say the US is not abandoning its old friends – provided those friends actually understand what the new plan means.

“In the case of Poland, it’s changing literally the reference to a ground-based interceptor, capital letters, to a ground-based interceptor, lower case,” said Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O'Reilly, director of the Missile Defense Agency.

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