President Obama's domestic agenda has met with hurdles on Capitol Hill, but his plans to shift the missile-defense system in Europe have also met with increasing apprehension as reports emerge that Iran has the capability to make a nuclear bomb.
Hours after the president announced a dramatically different focus for missile defense, one of his top allies, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., expressed concern about what she called an "abrupt decision" and noted that in July, the Senate unanimously stated that the U.S. missile defense system in Europe should be capable of protecting the United States as well as Europe.
The president's announcement came at the same time The Associated Press reported that a study drafted by the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that Tehran had sufficient information to develop a bomb and is likely to overcome problems it faced in creating a delivery system. Officials at the world's top nuclear watchdog believe, according to the AP, that Iran is on its way to developing a missile system capable of carrying an atomic warhead.
The agency said in a statement that it has no concrete proof of a nuclear weapons program in Iran, and that "continuing allegations that the IAEA was withholding information on Iran are politically motivated and totally baseless."
But the report is in line with what Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States knows about Iran's nuclear capabilities.
"Iran is developing nuclear capacity at a fairly rapid clip; they have been doing so for quite some time," the president said in June at a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"Iran's possession of nuclear weapons would trigger an arms race in the Middle East that would be bad not just for U.S. security, it would be bad for the security of the entire region, including, by the way, Iranian security."
Obama said Thursday one of the reasons for the change in the Eastern European missile-defense program is new intelligence about Iran's missile programs, which shows that the country is more capable creating short- and medium-range missiles that can reach Europe than long-range missiles.
"This new ballistic missile defense program will best address the threat posed by Iran's ongoing ballistic missile defense program," Obama told reporters in a hastily arranged news conference, as the news of the shift took many by surprise.
Iranian leadership said it is only working on an enriched uranium program for peaceful reasons but has failed to divulge anymore details. In an interview with NBC this week, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, "We don't need such a weapon," adding that the uranium enrichment program will never be closed down here in Iran."
Thursday's announcement is a dramatic departure from the Bush administration's proposal for permanent land-based interceptors in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic. Instead, Obama, acting on what he said was the "unanimous" advice of Defense Secretary Gates and the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the new system would be replaced by more mobile missiles on ships in the sea and around Europe.
The White House said new technology supports such a shift, and it would be more cost-effective and provide more security to U.S. interests and allies.