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Obama Shelves Bush-era Plan for Missile Defense Shield

The White House said Thursday that the U.S. will scrap a European missile shield proposed by the Bush administration to thwart the threat of an attack from Iran. Analysts weigh in on the decision.

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    President Obama today scrapped the Bush administration's plan for a missile shield in Eastern Europe. He said there is still a threat from Iran, but the system as designed does not address it.

    NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels has our lead story report.

    SPENCER MICHELS, NewsHour correspondent: The announcement came this morning from President Obama at the White House.


    President Bush was right that Iran's ballistic missile program poses a significant threat. This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems, and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack than the 2007 European missile defense program.


    At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Gates said new intelligence showed Iran is developing short- and medium-range missiles faster than expected, so the defense system has to change, as well.

    ROBERT GATES, Secretary of Defense: This poses an increased and more immediate threat to our forces on the European continent, as well as to our allies. On the other hand, our intelligence assessment also now assesses that the threat of potential Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities has been slower to develop than was estimated in 2006.


    Under the original system, Poland had agreed to host 10 missile interceptors, and a radar installation would be based in the Czech Republic. The system was designed to shoot down incoming long-range missiles, but was never built.

    Under the new plan, existing missile interceptors, which are missiles themselves, would be deployed on U.S. ships off Southern Europe, starting in 2011, followed in later years with additional ground-based missiles.

    The Bush plan had led to strained U.S. relations with the Russians, who feared the system was aimed at them. But both President Obama and Secretary Gates insisted today Russia's opposition was not a major factor in this decision.


    We've also repeatedly made clear to Russia that its concerns about our previous missile defense programs were entirely unfounded.


    The decisions on this were driven, I would say, almost exclusively by the changed intelligence assessment and the enhanced technology. It really was a zero-based look at both the threat and our capability to deal with it.


    The U.S. decision drew praise from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

    DMITRY MEDVEDEV, president, Russia (through translator): We appreciate this responsible move by the U.S. president toward realizing our agreement. I am ready to continue the dialogue.


    In Warsaw, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said Poland will still be secure. The Czech prime minister, Jan Fischer, said the announcement will not change relations with the U.S.

    But in the U.S. Congress, which has to fund any missile defense system, the announcement drew immediate and sharply opposing views.

    REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-Calif., Speaker of the House: I think this is brilliant. The fact that they have re-evaluated the threat, that they have taken into consideration what the technology, advanced technologies are now, what this means to our relationship in NATO and what this means in our bilateral relationship with Russia is very, very important.

  • REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio, House Minority Leader:

    This ill-advised decision does little more than empower Russia and Iran at the expense of our European allies. I think it shows a willful determination to continue ignoring the threat posed by some of the most dangerous regimes in the world while taking one of the most important defenses against Iran off the table.


    In Iran, a senior government source said the ongoing confrontation over Iran's nuclear program could ease as a result of today's U.S. decision.


    Margaret Warner has more.


    And now, more contrasting views on today's development from two men with extensive experience dealing with Europe and the former Soviet Union.

    Richard Burt served as ambassador to Germany, chief arms negotiator, and assistant secretary of state for European affairs during the Reagan administration. He's now with the business consulting firm and president of Global Zero, a nuclear arms control movement.

    David Kramer was assistant secretary of state for democracy, for human rights and labor, and deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs during the last Bush administration. He's now a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund.

    And welcome to you both. David Kramer, beginning with you, your immediate reaction to this move by President Obama?