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Bush Highlights Need for Missile Defense in Europe

President Bush says the need for a U.S.-led missile defense in Europe is urgent, given the growing threat from Iran. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson reports the president is urging the U.S. Congress to fully fund his missile shield initiative.

President Bush first unveiled his plan for an integrated missile-defense system in 2002, in a speech to military officers attending the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. Five years later, he returned to deliver a progress report.

He said the number of rogue regimes with ballistic weapons capability has increased, and the need for a missile shield is greater than ever.

"Missile defense is a vital tool for our security," he said. "It is a vital tool for deterrence, and a vital tool for counter-proliferation."

The president said by chipping away at funding to develop and deploy a missile shield, Congress is ignoring current and future threats.

"Each of these programs is vital to the security of America," he said. "And Congress needs to fully fund them."

He made specific mention of plans to deploy anti-missile technology in Europe - a battery of interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. The president complained that Congress has cut $139 million from that initiative.

He said the European component is needed to protect against potential threats from the Middle East, most notably Iran.

"The need for missile defense in Europe is real and I believe it is urgent," he said. "Iran is pursuing the technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles of increasing range to deliver them."

Hours earlier during a visit to the Czech Republic, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates indicated Washington might delay activating the European component of the missile-defense system until it has proof of a missile threat from Iran.

Secretary Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently went to Moscow to discuss the missile shield controversy with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has charged the deployment will destabilize Europe and lead to a new arms race.

Mr. Bush made no direct reference to any delay in deployment in his speech. But he did go out of his way to address Russian concerns.

"The Cold War is over. Russia is not our enemy," he said. "We are building a new security relationship whose foundation does not rest on the prospect of mutual annihilation."

President Bush called the proposed missile-defense system a cooperative effort, adding it is aimed at protecting Russia as well.