AP: The head of the United States’ missile defense program sought Wednesday to bolster Washington’s argument for anti-missile sites in Europe by warning that Iran has sped up development of long-range missiles. The Associated Press
By KAREL JANICEK
PRAGUE, Czech Republic (AP) The head of the United States’ missile defense program sought Wednesday to bolster Washington’s argument for anti-missile sites in Europe by warning that Iran has sped up development of long-range missiles.
Facing tough opposition from Russia and increased skepticism from Poland, where the U.S. wants to place part of the missile defense system, U.S. officials are trying to convince the Europeans that program is crucial to guarding against an emerging threat from Iran.
“They are developing missiles today in an accelerated pace,” Lt. Gen. Henry Obering said at the Foreign Ministry in the Czech Republic, one of the two European sites Washington has in mind.
Obering, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, said Iran was the third most active country in flight-testing missiles last year, behind Russia and China.
“They’re developing ranges of missiles that go far beyond anything they would need in a regional fight, for example, with Israel,” Obering said.
“Why are they developing missiles today that … will be possible to reach Europe in few years?” he asked.
The U.S. is in talks with the Czech government about plans to place a missile tracking radar system at a base in a military area near Prague. Washington also wants to place 10 interceptor missiles in Poland as part of the defense shield.
Iran recently announced that it has manufactured a new missile the Ashoura with a range of 1,200 miles, capable of reaching Israel and U.S. bases across the Middle East.
“They also made statements that once you reached that range, getting beyond that is fairly easy,” Obering said.
“Currently, there’s no protection in Europe against the intermediate-range or long-range weapons,” he said.
The Czech government has been receptive to the proposal. But Moscow argues that an installation so close to its border threatens Russia’s security. Months of negotiations with Moscow and the U.S. insistence that the system is not aimed at Russia have failed to ease those worries.
In another complication for Washington, Poland’s newly elected government has responded cautiously to the plans and has sought consultations on the matter with NATO.
Fearing the security risk that would come with having the interceptor battery on its soil, Poland has asked for U.S. aid to upgrade its own air defenses. Senior diplomats from both countries reported progress in those discussions Tuesday in Warsaw.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried told reporters in Warsaw that Washington understands the concerns.
“The Poles have made a sound case that missile defense can expose them to additional risks,” Fried said after meeting with the Poland’s foreign minister.
In Prague, Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said Czech and U.S. officials could sign a framework agreement in the next few months that “should open new possibilities for mutual partnership on missile defense, including research, development, design, testing, deployment, and support of an integrated ballistic missile defense system.”
Obering said the U.S. has made “tremendous progress” in winning over NATO allies for the missile defense shield but acknowledged “frankly, less progress with the Russians.”
Associated Press Writer Monika Scislowska in Warsaw, Poland, contributed to this report.