President Obama this morning said the decision to adjust plans for a missile defense shield in Europe have been driven by updated intelligence on Iran's missile system and significant improvements in missile defense technology.
The administration announced it is scrapping plans to base long-range missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic in favor of a more flexible, shorter-range system that would counter potential short- or mid-range Iranian missile threats to Europe. Under the new program, instead of focusing on a ground-based system, the United States will increasingly deploy sea- and land-based missile interceptors.
"As commander in chief, I'm committed to doing everything in my power to advance our national security, and that includes strengthening our defenses against any and all threats to our people, our troops, and our friends and allies around the world," Obama said today in a hastily arranged news conference. "The best way to responsibly advance our security and the security of our allies is to deploy a missile defense system that best responds to the threats that we face, and that utilizes technology that is both proven and cost effective."
The White House says the new approach will provide more efficiency and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack than the original plan devised by the Bush administration, which placed an emphasis on defending against long-range missiles.
Officials say a new threat assessment suggests that the Iranian missile threat to Europe is focused more on short and medium range missiles rather than from long-range missiles currently under development.
According to a fact sheet provided by the White House, "This approach is based on an assessment of the Iranian missile threat, and a commitment to deploy technology that is proven, cost-effective, and adaptable to an evolving security environment."
The move came as a surprise to many, but will surely be welcomed by Russia, which has long opposed the plan originally conceived under the Bush administration. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and his predecessor Vladimir Putin had opposed the U.S. plan to base components in Poland and the Czech Republic, claiming they were designed to counter Russia instead of Iran, a charge the U.S. denies.
"We've also repeatedly made clear to Russia that its concerns about our previous missile defense programs were entirely unfounded. Our clear and consistent focus has been the threat posed by Iran's ballistic missile program and that continues to be our focus and the basis of the program that we're announcing today," Obama said today.
Medvedev said today's announcement signals a positive step toward U.S.-Russia cooperation.
"We appreciate the U.S. president's conscientious approach in realizing our agreements," Medvedev said in a statement on Russian TV. "I am prepared to continue our dialogue."
The White House today said there is no quid pro quo with Russia.
"This is not about Russia. This is about protecting our homeland," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters.
In Washington, Republicans panned the idea, with Sen. John McCain, R-Aria., calling the decision "rushed" and "seriously misguided."