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Russia Still Opposes US Plan for Missile Shield in Eastern Europe


Russia strongly opposes the U.S. plan to station a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. That issue will be discussed during the upcoming summit meeting in Moscow between U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev.

The Bush administration was wholeheartedly behind a proposed missile defense system made up of 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar facility in the Czech Republic. U.S. officials said the system was needed to defend Europe and the United States against potential threats from countries such as Iran.

However, Daryll Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association - a private research firm - says Iran does not pose an immediate danger.

"Iran does not have the capability of hitting Europe with a long-range missile," he said. "It does have some medium-range missile capabilities that could hit the eastern flanks of continental Europe."

"But we also have to keep in mind that Iran does not have a payload, particularly a nuclear payload that would make those missiles a real strategic threat. What's more, is that Iran also understands that if it were to strike another country, it opens itself up to retaliation. And if it is going to be hitting any NATO country, that opens it up to retaliation from all of the NATO partners, including the United States," he added.

Kimball and other experts say the new Obama administration is not as committed to the missile defense shield as was President Bush.

"The Obama administration has been quite clear that it will pursue effective ballistic missile defenses," he said. "They have also said, however, that they are not going to move forward and deploy systems and spend billions of dollars on systems that have not been proven effective through flight testing."

"And the particular system that the Bush administration was rushing to try to deploy in Poland and the Czech Republic had not even been tested. It involves a two-stage interceptor that is scheduled to be flight tested three times in the next two and a half years - but that has not yet happened," he continued.

The missile defense shield will be discussed at the upcoming Moscow summit between presidents Obama and Medvedev. The Russians have been strongly critical of the system, saying it is targeted against Moscow - a view rejected by U.S. officials.

David Kramer was a former senior U.S. State Department official in the Bush administration. He is now with the German Marshall Fund in the United States.

"When I was working in the Bush administration, I can tell you definitively that that was not the design or plan or intent of putting 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar facility in the Czech Republic. That was designed to confront the possibility of a nuclear weapons threat emanating from Iran. It had nothing to do with Russia," he said.

Robert Legvold from Columbia University says the Russians see the missile shield as the first step in a grandiose plan.

"The Russians are not all that concerned about the immediate practical, military, strategic threat of these systems in central Europe, but see it as the camel's nose under the tent and believe that it's connected with other plans for deploying national missile defense in Alaska, potentially other missile sites in Europe that have been mentioned - toward the Balkans - conceivably a national missile or theater missile component, ballistic missile component in the Far East - in Taiwan or other areas. So I think the Russians believe that this may be potentially a building block," he said.

David Kramer says there have been attempts to get Russia to participate in the missile defense shield.

"There is interest in cooperating with Russia in Armavir, in southern Russia as well as in Gabala, in Azerbaijan, with the radar facilities in both places," he said. "But Russia is insisting that cooperation there would obviate the need to establish sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Bush administration's policy was no, those could complement what we have in mind for Poland and the Czech Republic. The Obama administration's position on this is a little less clear."

Experts say it will be interesting to see if during the July Moscow summit presidents Obama and Medvedev will be able to narrow the differences and not allow the missile defense shield to be a major obstacle to better relations between Washington and Moscow.

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