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graphic showing flags and missiles
US plans for a missile defense system have proved controversial in EuropeImage: AP

Missile shield

September 17, 2009

The United States is poised to shelve plans to build a long-range missile defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.


Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer told reporters that US President Barack Obama has promised to do away with plans to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

"US President Barack Obama called me shortly after midnight to tell me his government was giving up its intention to build a radar base on Czech soil," Fischer said Thursday.

The Polish foreign ministry said the White House had informed Warsaw that Obama would be making a public announcement later on Thursday.

Contentious issue

The missile shield has been a bone of contention between Washington and Moscow, since it was first proposed by former US President George W. Bush. While the US has insisted that the shield would protect against Iranian long-range missiles, Russia has seen the project as threatening its security. The plans have also caused considerable irritation between eastern and western European countries, which have been unable to agree on the viability and necessity of the system.

air-defense radar dome
NATO already operates radar in the Czech RepublicImage: AP

The Wall Street Journal, which broke the story, said Obama ordered a 60-day review of the Bush administration’s plan. The findings are expected to be completed as early as next week, according to the Journal report.

The chairman of the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, told the Associated Press that the administration was "very very, close" to the end of its review.

Concern remains about Iranian missiles

Paul Beaver, a British defense analyst, told Deutsche Welle that the decision was a "recommendation to remove the missile defense shield in the gold-plated version."

"But we should not forget," he said "that there is still real concern in Europe about what Iran might be doing with missiles in the future and what might happen if North Korea gets an intercontinental ballistic missile."

"On the political front, this will be viewed as another step by Obama to normalize relations with Russia and therefore European-Russian relations," Beaver said.

Russian officials said they did not want to comment on the U.S. media reports. "We are waiting for confirmation," the foreign ministry said.

Other systems still under consideration

News about shelving the defense system has rung the alarm bells in Eastern Europe, where officials have expressed concerns that the Obama White House effort to "reset" relations with Moscow will come at their expense.

US president Obama and his Russian counterpart Dimitry Medvedev
Obama is said to want to re-set relations with MoscowImage: AP

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Kremer said he would be flying to Washington in the next 10 days with Deputy Defense Minister Stanislav Komorovski to discuss the issue.

Aleksander Szczyglo, Poland's chief of national security, said "if confirmed, it would be a failure in long-term thinking in the US administration regarding this part of Europe." He said the proposed missile shield had not only a "military dimension", but also a "political and strategic" one.

Poland, in particular, has lobbied the White House to deploy Patriot missile batteries in the country, manned by American troops, as another option.

And although Polish officials strongly supported former President Bush's missile defense plans, US officials have said that their primary desire was to get US military personnel on the ground in Poland.

Author: Gregg Benzow

Editor: Trinity Hartman

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