Obama to abandon European missile-defence shield

Barack Obama has abandoned the US’s controversial plan to build a missile-defence system in Europe in one of the sharpest breaks yet with the policies of the Bush administration, according to reports from Washington today

In a move that, if confirmed, is likely to delight the Kremlin but unnerve Washington’s eastern European allies, the Wall Street Journal said that the White House would not proceed with plans to site missile interceptors in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. Russia had furiously opposed the project — claiming it targeted Moscow’s nuclear arsenal.

During a visit to Moscow in July, Obama announced a 60-day review of the Pentagon’s contentious missile defence plan. According to the Wall Street Journal, the findings, to be released next week, will conclude that Iran’s long-range missile programme is progressing more slowly than previously thought.

The Bush administration had argued that the system was needed to defend the US and its allies from an Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile.

Citing US officials, the paper said the White House now believed Iran’s short and medium range missile programme posed a more potent and immediate danger.

Russia’s leadership is likely to see Obama’s apparent climbdown as a victory for its uncompromising stance on the shield.

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister, has repeatedly attacked the plan — arguing that it directly threatens Moscow and upsets Europe’s strategic nuclear balance.

Today, however, analysts pointed out that Obama’s decision would help to secure Russia’s cooperation on a possible new sanctions package against Iran and would also further his desire to “reset” relations with Moscow, following a dismal period under the Bush administration.

It would also significantly boost the chances of a new treaty on strategic nuclear arms reduction between Washington and Moscow, they said. Both the US and Russia have agreed to come up with a successor treaty to Start 1 by December, when the current agreement expires.

“Hardliners in Russia don’t want an agreement on Start. It will be very difficult now for Russia to avoid an agreement,” Ruben Sergeyev, a defence analyst in Moscow said this morning. “It [the decision to drop the shield] creates a very positive ambience, despite the fact it was really an artificial thing.”

The decision also strengthens Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, who is due to make his first presidential trip to the US next week, to take part in the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh. The Obama administration has been keen to boost Medvedev’s standing and authority at home, seeing him as a more moderate and less hostile interlocutor than Putin. – guardian.co.uk

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