US canceling key part of Euro missile defense

By Desmond Butler ,AP

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has announced that it is abandoning a key part of its European missile defense plan: an interceptor that had been strongly opposed by Russia. It cited development problems and a lack of money.

The cancellation of the interceptors, which were to be deployed in Poland and possibly Romania early next decade, offers a potential opening for new arms control talks. Russian officials suspect the interceptors were a counter to their missiles and had indicated that they would not consider further nuclear arms cuts unless their concerns were resolved.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced the cancellation Friday as part of an overall restructuring of the missile defense plans aimed at stopping missiles from North Korea and Iran. He made no reference to Russia’s objections. He said that other parts of the missile defense plans in Europe would move forward and that the U.S. commitment to missile defense in Europe “remains ironclad.”

The restructuring includes spending US$1 billion to add 14 new interceptors to the 26 that are in underground silos in Alaska to counter the threat from North Korea.

The shift in U.S. missile defense plans in Europe — the second major change to the program since Obama has been in the White House — could spark unease among some U.S. allies, including Poland and Romania, who see the system as a counterweight to Russia.

Missile defense has been a contentious issue since President George W. Bush sought to base long-range interceptors in central Europe to stop Iranian missiles from reaching the U.S. Russia believed the program was aimed at countering its own missiles and undermining its nuclear deterrent.

Obama reworked the Bush administration’s plan soon after taking office in 2009, canceling an earlier interceptor planned for Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, and replacing the high-speed interceptors with slower ones that could stop Iran’s medium-range missiles. Under his plan the interceptors were to be upgraded gradually over four phases, culminating early next decade with those intended to protect both Europe and the U.S.