AP: The chief U.S. missile defense negotiator defended plans to place anti-missile sites in Eastern Europe, saying Wednesday that the system could prevent a war with Iran by building an effective deterrent. The Associated Press
By JASON KEYSER
LONDON (AP) The chief U.S. missile defense negotiator defended plans to place anti-missile sites in Eastern Europe, saying Wednesday that the system could prevent a war with Iran by building an effective deterrent.
“Our intent is to address emerging threats in the Middle East,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Rood said in an interview with The Associated Press during a visit to London to attend a conference on defense trade. “Countries like Iran are developing long-range missile systems. And we’re concerned not only about the emerging capability but of the hostile intent from countries in the region.”
Washington plans to place a radar facility in the Czech Republic and a battery of up to 10 interceptor missiles in Poland. The European sites would be added to two other interceptor sites in California and Alaska that are primarily in place to counter a threat from North Korea.
Moscow objects to the plans, saying the system is meant for spying on Russia.
Rood, a veteran arms control expert who has led a team of negotiators in two rounds of talks with Russia since July, said a European system would make it less tempting for Iran to launch a first strike, and it could also dissuade the U.S. from believing it had no alternative to a pre-emptive strike of its own.
“We think (missile defense) helps create disincentives for development of missiles,” he said in regard to Iran.
The U.S. system relies on interceptor missiles with refrigerator-sized “kill vehicles” designed to destroy an incoming warhead at high speed. Rood said the sites in the western United States helped avert a crisis in the summer of 2006, when North Korea test-fired a series of missiles, including its latest long-range model, known abroad as the Taepodong-2, which experts believe could reach Alaska, Hawaii and perhaps the U.S. West Coast.
Some U.S. officials had argued for a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, but the administration did not seriously consider it, Rood said, in part because the anti-missile system provided a potential defense.
“We didn’t have to escalate the crisis by moving forces to the region, placing people on alert, ” Rood said.
In Europe, Rood said, it is crucial to have batteries in place before a similar threat emerges from the Middle East. The Pentagon fears Iran could develop a missile capable of reaching the U.S. by 2015. Russia believes Iran is decades away from that point.
In June, Iran’s top security official, Ali Larijani, called the U.S. anti-missile plan “the joke of the year.”
The new anti-missile system has become one of the most difficult issues in Washington’s increasingly strained relations with Moscow.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said Friday that the United States’ true intention was to spy on Russia. A U.S. invitation for Russia to join in its missile defense plans has so far failed to win Moscow’s blessing.
Nevertheless, talks with the Czech Republic and Poland continue, and Washington wants to have the system in place by 2013, Rood said.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the AP in an interview in New York on Monday, that Iran has always maintained a defensive policy and has “never sought to expand its territory.”
“Iran will not attack any country,” Ahmadinejad said, when asked if Iran would ever strike first against Israel.
Moscow’s concern with the program, Rood said, is that it could expand beyond its current scope and weaken the capability of Russia’s strategic forces.
Russia has suggested that the United States share the use of a Russian-leased radar installation in Azerbaijan and a radar in southern Russia. U.S. officials have said the radar’s technology is outdated and emphasized that even if they were to use the Russian radar, it would not replace the other elements.
But the two sides have exchanged intelligence assessments on Middle East threats and U.S. experts have briefed Moscow on the system’s capabilities, which Rood said fall short of being able to shoot down a Russian intercontinental ballistic missile.