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17 Sep, 2009 15:08

Shield repealed: US reviews anti-missile plans

American President Barack Obama has confirmed that the US intends to shelve its plans for a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Earlier the decision was announced by the Czech Republic’s Prime Minister Jan Fischer.

The decision came after a 60-day review order by President Obama, and the timing is significant as it comes just weeks before an October 1 meeting between UN Security Council members and Iranian negotiators.

“It is more comprehensive than the previous program; it deploys capabilities that are proven and cost effective, and it sustains and builds upon our commitment to protect the US homeland.”

The move will signify a major reversal in policy from the Bush administration, which was adamant on installing the shield in Eastern Europe.

US sees no imminent threat

Without giving specifics, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said, “We have made a major adjustment and enhancement to our European missile defense system that will better protect our forces deployed in Europe and our allies there from Iranian short- and medium-range missiles.

“That the Americans will not be placing the AMD and that their announcement that the Iranian threat was overestimated and Iran is not as threatening as it seemed at the beginning will definitely be considered by Tehran. This is an important signal indicating the seriousness of the Americans’ attitude towards the decreasing of nuclear arsenals of the leading nuclear powers.”

Aleksandr Konovalov, President of the Russian Institute of Strategic Assessment (Itar-Tass)

US Vice President Joe Biden, who is on a visit to Iraq, said he saw no imminent missile threat from Iran. However, he didn’t elaborate on the news about the scrapping of the missile defense system.

NATO’s new Secretary General called Thursday’s move “a positive step”. Earlier, Anders Fogh Rasmussen called for the alliance to turn over a new leaf in relations with Moscow and for stronger cooperation on issues of mutual interest.

Russia views decision as progress

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Nesterenko stressed that Moscow “did not strike any bargain” with Washington on the antimissile shield.

“Considering that relations between Iran and the US are still at a dead end, and that Iran is still suffering from internal problems, the United States is hoping that, for stopping the AMD plan or putting it off until the distant future, Russia will be inclined along with the US to enforce harsher sanctions against Iran.”

Aleksey Arbatov, director of the Center of International Security of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences (Itar-tass)

The head of Russia’s State Duma Committee for International Affairs Konstantin Kosachev says it could be a clear sign of a constructive dialogue between the two countries:

“It’s a clear sign that the US is taking Russia and its arguments as seriously as their national security considerations. I’m sure that the cooperation between the countries in the field of strategic security is more effective for both Russia and the US than any AMD, any armed forces, or any military operation.”

The US anti-missile shield was always strongly opposed by Moscow, which perceived it as a threat to its own security.

It also faced opposition from many of the local residents in both Poland and the Czech Republic.

Czech Republic: US decision is no surprise

The Czech Republic hopes military cooperation with the United States will continue despite the shelving of the antimissile plans.

Vaclav Bartuska from the Czech Foreign Affairs Ministry said the news was expected, since the Obama administration started to review previous policy in spring this year.

“So, it’s not totally new information,” he added.

“I think in general there is quite large part of society which would like to see our ties to the US strengthened. And there are also others who would like to see them much more ambivalent,” he said.

“Without shield we are losing alliance with Washington”

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has said that President Barack Obama has assured him that US plans to alter a missile defense project in Eastern Europe will not hurt Polish security.

The two spoke over the phone on Thursday, wherein the American president told Tusk that his government is changing the missile defense plans drawn up by the Bush administration.

Tusk refused to discuss the matter in detail pending Obama's announcement of the decision.

Earlier, Polish officials said Barack Obama could not inform Tusk about the decision personally due to communication problems.

“Americans can place their [radar and anti-missile system] in another region and watch and shoot or place the AMD elements in space. They can also use Boeing airplanes rigged with laser weapons, which passed a test two years ago.”

Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems. (RIA Novosti)

The abandonment of the missile defense shield plan “would be very bad,” said Witold Waszczykowski, the deputy head of Poland's National Security Bureau and advisor to President Lech Kaczy?ski.

“Without the shield we would de facto be losing a strategic alliance with Washington,” he added.

According to Dr Michal Fiszer, Polish defense analyst, Poland “has double benefits from this installation” in the country.

“The U.S. would take care about it. And in case of any armed aggression against Poland, the U.S. would be interested in repulse this aggression to protect their own vital isolation,” he said.

“There was no reason to alienate Russia”

“I knew this was going to happen,” said RT’s political commentator Peter Lavelle, commenting on the report. “[The US AMD shield] is too expensive, it doesn’t work, and it’s not necessary, and there was no reason to alienate Russia. Obama is making a good decision right here – not only for US-Russia relations, but dealing with Iran in general.”

Andrey Kokoshin, State Duma Deputy, Academic of the Russian Academy of Sciences, echoes him, saying that for professionals this decision was not unexpected:

“From a political point of view this is a step in the right direction which can be positively gauged. The previous administrations really had their ears closed on this regard, spending huge amounts of money. Today the Obama administration more rationally approaches both the structure of the AMD system and the use of money in the defense budget, which will obviously be decreased.”