US drops key part of European defence plan

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THE Obama administration is abandoning a key part of its European missile defence plan – an interceptor strongly opposed by Russia – blaming development problems and a lack of money.

The axing of the interceptors, which were to be dep­loyed in Poland and possibly Romania early next decade, offers a potential opening for new arms control talks.

Russian officials suspect the interceptors were a counter to their missiles and had indicated that they would not consider further arms cuts unless their concerns were resolved.

US secretary of defence Chuck Hagel announced the cancellation as part of an overall restructuring of the defence plans aimed at stopping missiles from North Korea and Iran.

He made no reference to Russia’s objections to the European plans and said other parts of the missile defence plans in Europe would move forward and America’s commitment to missile defence in Europe “remains ironclad”.

The restructuring includes spending $1 billion to add 14 interceptors to the 26 that are in silos in Alaska.

The shift in US missile def­ence plans in Europe – the second major change to the programme since Obama has been in the White House – could spark unease among some US allies, including Pol­and and Romania, who see the system as a sign of US engagement in the region and a counterweight to Russia.

Missile defence has been a contentious issue since George Bush sought to base long-range interceptors in central Europe to stop Iranian missiles from reaching the US. Russia believed the programme was aimed at countering its missiles and undermining its nuclear deterrent.

Obama reworked the Bush administration’s plan soon ­after taking office in 2009, cancelling an earlier interceptor planned for Poland and radar in the Czech Republic, and replacing the high-speed interceptors with slower ones that could stop Iran’s medium-range missiles.

Under Obama’s plan, the interceptors were to be upgraded gradually over four phases, culminating early next decade with those intended to protect both Europe and the US.

Russia initially welcomed the changes to the Bush plan and relations between the two powers improved. This paved the way for the New Start Treaty setting limits on both countries’ nuclear arsenals.