President Obama's decision to revise a plan to deploy a missile defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland is drawing praise and criticism from members of Congress. Republicans sharply criticized the move saying it amounts to abandonment of two key U.S. allies in Europe, while Democrats praised the decision.
In her weekly briefing for reporters on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised the president's decision to switch to a new approach for defending against potential ballistic missile threats from Iran.
Saying she was briefed on the change by National Security Advisor General James Jones, Pelosi said it constitutes a giant step forward.
"The fact that they have re-evaluated the threat, that they have taken into consideration what the advanced technologies are now, what this means to our relationship in NATO, and what this means to our bilateral relationship with Russia, is very, very important," said Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi said it was notable that Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who played a key role in missile defense decisions in the Bush administration, supported the president's decision to adopt what is called the Phased Adaptive Approach involving deployments of sea and land-based missile interceptors and a system of sensors to defend against Iranian ballistic missile threats.
Reaction from minority Republicans was uniformly critical.
Illinois Republican Representative Mark Kirk called the president's decision a blow to Poland and an encouragement to Iran.
"Iran, a state sponsor of terrorists, now makes the longest-range missile of the terrorist world," he said. "The administration's decision is particularly ironic because Poland just announced it would be sending more troops to serve alongside Americans in Afghanistan. America is going to let Poland down, sending a message of weakness to our Polish allies and the people building Iran's new missile arsenal."
Reaction from other Republicans was just as critical.
House of Representatives Republican leader, John Boehner, said the decision does little more than empower Russia and Iran at the expense of U.S. allies in Europe.
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said she was deeply troubled that the U.S. has chosen to reward the Russian Federation by surrendering missile defense priorities as Russia intensifies its efforts to block crippling sanctions against the Iranian regime.
However, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Democrat Ike Skelton, said it appears the new missile defense strategy for Europe is a comprehensive approach that will counter the most immediate missile threats from Iran and protect our allies and our troops in the region.
Skelton's Senate counterpart, Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, said Defense Secretary Gates had assured Congress that both Poland and the Czech Republic had reacted positively about the new approach.
Across Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans said they look forward to further briefings from the Obama administration on the change in the European missile defense policy.