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Missile plan irked Russia

Michael Muskal Los Angeles Times

President Barack Obama announced Thursday that he will scrap plans to build a proposed missile shield in Eastern Europe, a keystone of President George W. Bush’s defense policy. Here is a primer on the issue:

Q.What was the missile shield?

A.Under Bush, the United States was to build military installations to house 10 interceptor rockets in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic. Together they would form the missile shield designed to protect Eastern Europe from long-range missiles fired by Iran.

Q.How much work has been done?

A.U.S. experts have surveyed the sites but no actual construction has begun. The Czech installation was planned for the Brdy military installation, about 55 miles southwest of the capital, Prague. The Polish site was to be at a former military air base near Redzikowo, on the Baltic Sea and about 115 miles from the border with Russia, which strongly opposed the facilities in countries that were formerly within its sphere of influence.

Q.Why did the president change the plan?

A.In his announcement, Obama gave two reasons for the change in policy:

First, the latest intelligence indicates that Iran is concentrating on short- and medium-range missiles so the planned missile shield, designed to combat long-range missiles, is unneeded.

Second, technological advances in land- and sea-based interceptors and sensors means that they can now be more effective in supplying a defense for Europe. Obama also said the new approach, using the advanced versions of the SM-3 missile, will be more cost effective and offer the military more flexibility.

For the next two years, the U.S. will deploy the sea-based Aegis weapon system, the SM-3 interceptor and sensors such as the Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance system to monitor threats, the White House announced. More advanced systems will come later.

Q.What are the international politics?

A.Obama stressed that the U.S. was continuing its policy of protecting Europe. But the canceled projects were supported by leaders, especially in Poland, as a symbolic overture of support by the U.S. The populations were less enthusiastic, fearing the military installations made them a target in the event of hostilities with Russia.

Q.What about Russia’s position?

A.Russia strongly opposed the installations, which it feared were a continuation of U.S. and European efforts to encroach into the former Soviet bloc countries. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the decision by the Obama administration to scrap plans was a “responsible move.”

Q.Will the U.S. get something from Russia?

A.The Obama administration is hoping that without the irritant of the missile shield, relations will improve with Russia and that it will help the West try to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Q.Are there U.S. domestic political issues as well?

A.Republicans have generally been supportive of gestures to the former Soviet bloc and backed the Bush missile shield plan. In an early indication, Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia said he was “extremely disappointed to learn about the administration’s decision to abandon an important foreign policy commitment to two of our key allies.”

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