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September 18, 2009

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US scraps Bush-era missile shield plan

US President Barack Obama yesterday shelved a Bush-era plan for an Eastern European missile defense plan that has been a major irritant in American relations with Russia.

He said a redesigned defensive system would be cheaper and more effective against the threat from Iranian missiles.

"Our new missile defense architecture in Europe will provide stronger, smarter and swifter defenses of American forces and America's allies," Obama said from the White House. "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 missile defense system, planned under the Bush administration, was to have been built in the Czech Republic and Poland. Obama phoned Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer on Wednesday night and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk yesterday to alert them of his decision.

It was immediately unclear whether any part of the new system would still be installed in those nations, which agreed to host the Bush-planned shield at considerable cost in public opinion and their relations with Russia.

Obama said the US will continue to work cooperatively with what he called "our close friends and allies."

But the US president said the old plan was scrapped in part because, after a seven-month review, the US has concluded that Iran is less focused on developing the kind of long-range missiles for which the system was originally developed, making the building of an expensive new shield unnecessary. New technology also has arisen that military advisers decided could be deployed sooner and more effectively, he said.

Anticipating criticism from the right that he was weakening America's security, Obama said repeatedly that this decision would provide more - not less - protection.

"I'm committed to deploying strong missile defense systems that are adaptable to the threats of the 21st century," Obama said.

The criticism came immediately. Representative Eric Cantor, the second-ranking Republican in the House, said he would "work to overturn this wrong-headed policy."

"Scrapping our missile defense effort in Europe has severe consequences for our diplomatic relations and weakens our national security," Cantor said in a statement. "Our allies, especially Poland and the Czech Republic, deserve better, and our people deserve smarter and safer."

Obama also made a pointed reference to Russia and its objections to the shield: "Its concerns about our previous missile defense programs were entirely unfounded."

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called the US decision "a positive step."

And Konstantin Kosachev, head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of Russia's parliament, said, "It reflects understanding that any security measure can't be built entirely on the basis of one nation."


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