The White House is scrapping a Bush-era plan for an Eastern European missile-defense shield, saying a redesigned defensive system would be cheaper, quicker and more effective against the threat from Iranian missiles.
Mr. Gates said the previous administration's plans will be changed, moving away from the installation of a missile-defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland in
the near future. He said a second phase to begin in 2015 could result in missiles being placed on land in Eastern Europe.
The White house confirmed that it will ditch Bush plans to erect a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, a move likely to mean greater cooperation with Russia.
Russia on Thursday welcomed the news but said it saw no reason to offer concessions in return. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev threatened last November to station tactical Iskander missiles on Poland's border if the U.S. system was deployed.
"The Bush plans on the missile defense as we knew them until now were nothing more than a provocation of security in the European region," said Dmitry Rogozin,
Russia's ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in a phone interview.
Jan Fischer, the Czech Republic interim prime minister, said he got a phone call from Mr. Obama just after midnight Thursday about the plans.
The Polish government doesn't plan to make an immediate statement on its Thursday meeting with U.S. officials on the missile shield, Foreign Ministry spokesman Piotr Paszkowski said.
Huh?? You inform the leader of a key ally that your hanging out to dry by calling him "just after midnight." Now, that is some strong leadership.
It also appears to be at odds with a speech that President Obama gave in Prague all the way back on April 5, 2009. At that time, President Obama said, in part:
So let me be clear: Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran's neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles. As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. (Applause.) If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe will be removed. (Applause.)
Words. Just words. And as an aside, I like how the White House Press Office lets us know when the crowd applauded during the speech. It makes me feel like I was actually there.
Oddly, some of our European friends do not seem to excited about this decision. Here is Niles Gardiner from London's Telegraph:
This is bad news for all who care about the US commitment to the transatlantic alliance and the defence of Europe as well as the United States. It represents the appalling appeasement of Russian aggression and a willingness to sacrifice American allies on the altar of political expediency. A deal with the Russians to cancel missile defence installations sends a clear message that even Washington can be intimidated by the Russian bear.
What signal does this send to Ukraine, Georgia and a host of other former Soviet satellites who look to America and NATO for protection from their powerful neighbour? The impending cancellation of Third Site is a shameful abandonment of America’s friends in eastern and central Europe, and a slap in the face for those who actually believed a key agreement with Washington was worth the paper it was written on.
Okay, you say, but you've never heard of Niles Gardiner and really don't care what he has to say on the subject. Fair enough, so I also offer Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa:
Former Polish President and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Lech Wałesa, has spoken out about media reports that the US has scrapped plans to install a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.
“Americans have always cared only about their interests, and all other [countries] have been used for their purposes. This is another example,” Mr Wałęsa told TVN24. “[Poles] need to review our view of America, we must first of all take care of our business,” he added.
“I could tell from what I saw, what kind of policies President Obama cultivates,” the former president added. “I simply don't like this policy, not because this shield was required [in Poland], but [because of] the way we were treated,” he concluded.
Finally, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has called the President's decision "deeply regrettable:"
"This deeply regrettable decision sends the wrong message to Tehran, Moscow, and
our European allies at a critical time in our effort to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program," Lieberman said. "Moreover, it means that we will have a less capable missile defense system to protect the United States and our European allies against the Iranian threat. The administration must take immediate and tangible action to reassure our allies in Central and Eastern Europe that we are committed to their security and independence."
Deeply regrettable indeed.
Update: I did not realize that today was the 70th Anniversary of the Soviet Union's invasion of Poland. Now, that is some unfortunate timing.