(by Fred Lucas, CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama said Tuesday that a missile defense system in Eastern Europe is unnecessary if Russia is willing to help combat the threat of a nuclear Iran, thus signaling a new approach to U.S.-Russian relations.
Obama and his top spokesman, however, did not commit to completely dropping plans for missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, which Russia opposes and has threatened to retaliate against.
But the administration responded to reports in a New York Times story about a “secret” letter from Obama to Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev that said the United States would not need to establish the anti-missile sites if Russia would increase its commitment to blocking Iran’s ambitions.
“What I said in the letter is the same thing I’ve said publicly, which is that the missile defense that we have talked about deploying is directed not at Russia but Iran,” Obama said Tuesday. “That has always been the concern – that you had potentially a missile from Iran that threatened either the U.S. or Europe – and what I said in the letter is that obviously to the extent that we’re lessening Iran’s commitment to nuclear weapons, then that reduces pressure for the need for a missile defense system.”
Iran has reportedly carried out tests of Shahab-3 ballistic missiles with a range of 1,240 miles. These missiles could travel far enough to hit countries such as Greece, Bulgaria or Romania.
During the Bush administration, the United States established plans to install 10 defensive interceptor silos in Poland and build a radar station in the Czech Republic.
Medvedev said last year that such plans were unnecessary and added, “We will not be hysterical about this, but we will think of retaliatory steps.”
Some foreign policy analysts warned that Eastern European countries could feel betrayed by Obama’s move.
“I don’t think enlisting Russia as a larger partner than it already is in the leaky effort to dissuade Iran from getting a nuclear bomb is of great value,” Thomas Donnelly, defense and security policy analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative group, told CNSNews.com.
“The Obama people have no great love for missile defense,” said Donnelly. “It will be interesting to see the reaction from Eastern Europe. Will there be objection from the Poles if they feel the administration is selling them out to Russia?”
Much of Eastern Europe considers Russia a threat, Donnelly said.
“This can only be regarded as Obama tilting toward Russia, and a Russian return to influence in Europe,” he said.
Obama, while sitting alongside British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, told reporters that Eastern European allies have nothing to fear.
“In no way does that diminish my commitment to make sure that Poland, the Czech Republic, and other NATO members are fully enjoying the partnership of the alliance with respect to their security,” Obama said. “The way it got characterized, I think, is some sort of quid pro quo. It was simply a statement of fact that I have made previously that the missile defense program – to the extent that it is deployed – is meant to deal with not a Russian threat but an Iranian threat.”
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs echoed those points.
“If working with our allies and working with Russia, we can eliminate the threat, you also eliminate the driving force around the system to combat that threat,” Gibbs said.
Obama further said he hoped to improve relations between the United States and Russia, which have been strained in recent years in light of Russia’s aggressive actions toward neighboring Georgia and other issues.
“I’ve said we need to reset or reboot the relationship there,” Obama said. “Russia needs to understand our unflagging commitment to the independence and security of countries like a Poland or a Czech Republic. On the other hand, we have areas of common concern. I’ve cited two examples: the issue of nuclear non-proliferation and the issue of terrorism.”
Even supporters of missile defense do not think it is necessarily a bad call to dump planned anti-missile sites in Poland and the Czech Republic.
“This is still strictly about Iran’s intent,” Riki Ellison, chairman and founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, told CNSNews.com. “If that is stopped, we don’t need a missile defense system in Europe. The question is how to stop it.”
Ellison does not believe there should be reluctance to work with Russia on the matter.
“There are very viable assets that Russia has in its possession to deal with the nuclear- armed Iran,” Ellison said. “To the extent that Russia can be more motivated to stop Iran, it is helpful.”
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2. What did the New York Times report President Obama said in a secret letter to Russian President Medvedev?
3. A ballistic missile is a missile that follows a sub-orbital ballistic flight path with the objective of delivering a warhead (usually nuclear) to a predetermined target. What range do Iran’s Shabab-3 ballistic missiles have?
4. Describe the two reactions by analysts to President Obama’s attempts to gain Russia’s help in ending Iran’s nuclear weapons program by terminating plans for a U.S. missile defense system in Eastern Europe.
5. Considering the facts below, do you think that Russia will be able to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program (Iran has never admitted that its nuclear program is for weapons, but says it is for nuclear energy only). Explain your answer.
- Iran’s 20 year secret nuclear program was discovered in 2002. Iran says its program is for fuel purposes only, but it has been working on uranium enrichment which is used to make nuclear bombs.
- The U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, issued a report Monday on Sept. 15, 2008 that said Iran has repeatedly blocked an investigation into its nuclear program and the probe is now deadlocked.
- The Iranian government has called for the destruction of Israel on numerous occasions. It is believed that once obtained, Iranian President Ahmadinejad would use nuclear weapons against Israel.
THE PLANNED MISSILE-DEFENSE SYSTEM IN EASTERN EUROPE:
Former President George W. Bush’s administration developed plans to deploy missile-interceptor systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. Bush officials saw that as central to a U.S. strategy to protect American allies from Iranian and North Korea missiles. Moscow regularly complained that the system was actually targeting Russia.
Senior U.S. officials have made clear in recent weeks that the U.S. could alter its missile-defense plans. They have stressed this is contingent on Moscow helping the U.S. develop mechanisms for containing the Iranian nuclear and missile threat.
The State Department’s No. 3 diplomat, William Burns, carried this message to Moscow in mid-February. He said: “If, through strong diplomacy with Russia and our other partners, we can reduce or eliminate that threat [from Iran], it obviously shapes the way that we look at missile defense. We are also open to the possibility of cooperation with Russia and with our NATO partners on new missile-defense configurations.”
When asked if the U.S. could scrap its plans for deploying a missile shield in Europe should the Iran nuclear issue be addressed, Mr. Burns answered: “It means that that is certainly one of the factors that we will consider.”
THE U.S. MISSILE-DEFENSE SYSTEM:
The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was proposed by U.S. President Ronald Reagan on March 23, 1983 to use ground-based and space-based systems to protect the United States from attack by strategic nuclear ballistic missiles. The SDI was intended to defend the United States from attack from Soviet ICBMs by intercepting the missiles at various phases of their flight. The initiative focused on strategic defense rather than the prior strategic offense doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD), that assumed that neither side would start a nuclear war because it would not be able to avoid imminent destruction. Reagan’s “Star Wars” program drew the Soviets into a costly effort to mount a response. The race depleted Soviet funds and triggered the economic difficulties that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
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