Iran General NewsU.S. missile chief urges unity on shield to counter...

U.S. missile chief urges unity on shield to counter Iran threat

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Bloomberg: The U.S. head of missile defense said that European countries should unite behind an anti-missile shield to counter the “urgency” of the threat posed by Iran. By Brian Parkin and Alan Crawford

March 15 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. head of missile defense said that European countries should unite behind an anti-missile shield to counter the “urgency” of the threat posed by Iran.

The U.S., in talks to set up parts of the system in Poland and the Czech Republic, is concerned it could be delayed until 2011 or 2012, according to Air Force Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. Iran could have ballistic missile capability between 2010 and 2015, before the shield is ready, he said.

“We see a very serious threat emerging from Iran, a very aggressive missile program developing there,” Obering told reporters in Berlin today. “We do believe there’s an urgency with respect to this threat.”

Obering was responding to concerns voiced in Europe over the need for an anti-ballistic missile shield, as well as the U.S. approach to putting such a system in place. North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, while supporting the shield, warned in the Financial Times on March 12 that the alliance risked being split on the issue.

The program, rather than causing division, can “unite Europe if we think about it in the right way: Focus on the Iranians as being the problem,” Obering said.

Space Launch

Iran has a “stated intent to develop a space-launch capability, which they say is imminent,” he continued. “If that’s true, they have demonstrated all of the building blocks that you need for intercontinental ballistic missiles. With the ambiguity of their nuclear program, that’s not a risk that we feel is prudent to take.”

Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. reached tentative agreement late yesterday on tightening United Nations sanctions on Iran to halt uranium enrichment. The U.S. and its European allies say Iran’s nuclear program is intended to produce nuclear weapons; Iran says it is for energy purposes.

Germany, while supporting the UN Security Council, has been less forthcoming on the missile defense shield. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier criticized the U.S. for its failure to consult with Russia over the shield and cast doubt on the system’s logic, telling the Handelsblatt newspaper on Feb. 19 that whether it “makes military sense has to be assessed.”

NATO Solution

Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview with German ZDF television channel two days ago that her government prefered “a solution within NATO as a whole and an open dialogue about it with Russia.”

Russia will take “military measures” to counter the missile-defense system, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov said in an interview in Moscow yesterday. President Vladimir Putin told a security conference in Munich last month that the U.S. was eroding global security and its planned missile shield would spur a new arms race.

Obering sought to allay Russian concerns that the system could target Russian weapons or territory, saying the two countries had enjoyed a “stable relationship” for years.

“What is changed here is the very aggressive development and testing of missiles by Iran,” he said. “We have to move to address that threat in a fairly timely manner.”

The system as proposed involves basing 10 interceptors in Poland, a radar system in the Czech Republic and a mobile radar, and would cover all of Western Europe from the Iberian peninsula to Ukraine and western Russia as well as the Balkans, Obering said.

Tests of the technology have so far been successful, he said, with the U.S. having launched 24 successful intercepts since 2001.

“We’re confident the technology works,” he said.

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