Washington Times: President Bush yesterday said a U.S.-led missile-defense system in Europe is urgently needed to thwart the threat of attack by Iran, citing intelligence estimates that show the Middle East nation could strike the United States and European allies by 2015. The Washington Times
By Joseph Curl
President Bush yesterday said a U.S.-led missile-defense system in Europe is urgently needed to thwart the threat of attack by Iran, citing intelligence estimates that show the Middle East nation could strike the United States and European allies by 2015.
Russia is bristling over U.S. plans to install missile bases in Poland and a radar facility in the Czech Republic. President Vladimir Putin said the move raises the prospect for a new Cold War and threatened to aim Russian missiles at European sites to restore a fragile balance of power.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said at a press conference in the Czech Republic yesterday that the Bush administration might delay activation of the sites until it has clear intelligence about a missile threat from Iran.
“We would consider tying together activation of the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic with definitive proof of the threat in other words, Iranian missile testing and so on,” Mr. Gates said with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek at his side.
The Bush administration is negotiating with Prague and Warsaw over terms of basing, but both nations are eager to reach an agreement. Russia has pressed the U.S. to freeze the negotiations, but Mr. Gates said that won’t happen.
“We have not fully developed this proposal, but the idea was we would go forward with the negotiations, we would complete the negotiations, we would develop the sites, build the sites, but perhaps delay activating them until there was concrete proof of the threat from Iran,” the defense chief said.
Mr. Bush is adamant about an Iranian threat. Tehran has ramped up its nuclear program by building thousands of centrifuges to produce uranium, the central ingredient in nuclear weapons. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has pledged the destruction of Israel and has vowed despite global objections ” to continue to produce materials that could be used for nuclear weapons.
“If it chooses to do so and the international community does not take steps to prevent it it is possible Iran could have this capability,” Mr. Bush said yesterday during a speech at the National Defense University in Washington. “And we need to take it seriously now.”
Seeking to allay concerns in Moscow, Mr. Bush has portrayed the missile-defense system as a “cooperative effort” against “an emerging threat that affects us all.”
Mr. Putin has offered facilities in Azerbaijan and southern Russia as a U.S. alternative to the missile bases in Poland and radar facility in the Czech Republic.
Mr. Bush said Mr. Putin’s offer “could be included as part of a wider threat monitoring system” but made it clear that the operative plan is still for sites in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The U.S. missile-defense shield is a fledgling system based mainly in Alaska, California and Colorado. After several unsuccessful attempts, the system recently intercepted test missiles in midair.
The White House said Mr. Gates and Mr. Bush were on the same page.
“We are going to continue the lay the groundwork,” press secretary Dana Perino said. “And if we get to the point where Iran decides that they do not want to have a nuclear weapon, where we can verify that, then we might decide that it wouldn’t be necessary eventually.”