WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama denied that "paranoid" objections from Russia influenced his decision to abandon plans by the former Bush administration to site a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.
"Russia had always been paranoid about this, but George Bush was right, this wasn't a threat to them," Obama said in an interview on CBS show "Face the Nation" days before he is set to meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the United Nations.
"This program will not be a threat to them. So my task here was not to negotiate with the Russians," Obama said, responding to claims by some domestic critics that his move amounted to appeasement of confrontational Russian policies.
"The Russians don't make determinations about what our defense posture is. We have made a decision about what will be best to protect the American people as well as our troops in Europe and our allies," Obama said.
"If the by-product of it is that the Russians feel a little less paranoid and are now willing to work more effectively with us to deal with threats like ballistic missiles from Iran or nuclear development in Iran, you know, then that's a bonus."
Obama last week announced that he would shelve plans to site parts of a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, and instead deploy more mobile equipment targeting Iran's short and medium-range missiles.
|File photo of a Russian missile complex "Iskander" on display during a military equipment exhibition in the Siberian town of Nizhny Tagil (AFP photo)|
The White House has denied it orchestrated a quid pro quo with Moscow by agreeing to halt work on the missile shield in a bid to win more cooperation on issues like Iran's nuclear program.
But foreign policy experts are closely watching to see whether Moscow offers any concessions following the US decision, as both sides seek to "reset" a relationship plagued by Cold War-style rhetoric in recent years.
Russia has broadly welcomed the US move.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday praised Obama's action as "brave" but called for more US measures to lift Soviet-era restrictions on the export of high technology to Russia and to help its World Trade Organization membership bid.
Obama and Medvedev will meet on Wednesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, with the Iranian nuclear showdown and joint efforts to agree cuts in strategic nuclear weapons also on the agenda.
The US president's decision on the missile shield means that Washington will not now deploy an anti-missile radar in the Czech Republic or missile interceptors in Poland.
Obama reasoned that a slower than expected development path by Iran on long-range missiles meant that the prime threat to the United States and its allies now came from short and medium-range weapons.
Initially, the new system will see the US military deploy interceptors on ships then seek to deploy land-based technology in Europe from 2015.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that the previous system would not have been operational until at least 2017 at the earliest and insisted the shift provided "greater flexibility to adapt as new threats develop and old ones recede."
"We are strengthening -- not scrapping -- missile defense in Europe," he wrote in an opinion column in the New York Times.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also defended the decision as "a stronger and smarter approach" in a opinion piece in the Financial Times.
"We are not 'shelving' missile defense. We are enhancing our capacity to protect our interests and our allies," Clinton wrote.
"We are not walking away from our allies but are deploying a system that enhances allied security, advances our cooperation with NATO, and actually places more resources in more countries."
The top US diplomat also repeated that "this decision was not about Russia."
"It was about Iran and the threat that its ballistic missile programs continue to pose. And because of this decision, we will be in a far stronger position to deal with that threat, and to do so with technology that works."